SCOTS
CMSW

Gillespie

Author(s): Hay, John Macdougall

Text

GILLESPIE
BY
J. MACDOUGALL HAY
"He that is greedy of gain, troubleth his own house."
THE PROVERBS
LONDON
CONSTABLE & COMPANY LTD.
1914
TO
NEIL MUNRO
GILLESPIE
BOOK I
CHAPTER I
SOMEWHAT by east of the bay two of the Crimea
cannon, each on a wooden platform, lifted to seaward
dumb mouths which once had thundered at Sevastopol.
A little west of the derelict guns, and almost at the end
of the shore-road, stood a gaunt two-storeyed house. Its
walls were harled, its gables narrow and high, and its
plain windows, whitened in winter with sea-salt, gave it
the appearance of an old high-browed lady, with her white
hair tightly drawn back from her forehead. This house,
at the root of the hills, bleached with the gales of
centuries, and imminent upon a beach of gravel, had a
sinister appearance. From a distance one was infected
with a sense of austere majesty at first sight of the house.
It came as a discovery, nearer hand, that it was the tall
gables which produced this effect. Attention, however,
was attracted, not to the gables, but to a sign which hung
over the door. Dimly traced on this heart-shaped sign
was the half-defaced head of a man, and a hand grasping
a dagger. The hand stabbed down with sleuth-like
malignity. The place had once been an inn and of considerable
repute; but horror came to nest there in the
inscrutable way in which it attaches to certain places.
Two men had come up from the sea in the dusk, and put
in for the night at the inn. His wife being sick, Alastair
Campbell went up in the morning to rouse the men. He
found one of them lying on his back on the floor
as if sunk in profound meditation. A bone handle rested
on his left breast.
"Clare tae Goäd," said Campbell, "I thought it was
the dagger o' the sign above the door. A cold grue
went doon my back." The slain man, one-eyed, with
a broad black beard, was a Jew. His pockets had been
rifled. The hue and cry was raised, but the tall, swarthy
fellow had vanished even more completely than the dead
man, where he lay nameless in the south-west corner of
the graveyard.
Fear fell upon the inn. It was named the "Ghost.''
The painted dagger seemed to grate aloft when the wind
blew. Campbell took to drink, and used to wander
through the house at night, candle in hand. His wife
became worn, watching him, and, always ailing, died
within the year on child-bed. It came to this at last that
her husband sat in the bar all day drinking with every
wastrel, and too sodden at nightfall to make a reckoning.
He roved the rooms, shouting with terrible blasphemy on
a concealed left-handed devil to come out and show himself.
Fishermen sailing past said that they saw lights
dancing about the rigging of the "Ghost" in the grey of
dawn. Soon all the bottles in the bar were emptied.
Campbell's comrades from the town dropped off, and the
scavengers who remained held the pewter measure beneath
the tap as Campbell tilted up each barrel in turn.
Of all that he had done, of all that had happened to him
in his downfall and degradation, this was the most pitiable.
"This is the last nicht, my he'rties," he cried, tilting
up the last barrel. Without the sign creaked ominously
in the scuffling wind. "Hark to it!" he yelled; "the
bloody dagger's speakin'. Here's to it;" and with an
oath he held the tankard to his mouth. His bloodshot
eyes rolled in his inflamed face. "By Goäd, boys, I'll
fire the hoose ower my heid and burn oot the bloody
Spaniard." The scavengers stamped out the fire, and
carried him upstairs to the bed of the room where he had
discovered the Jew lying on the floor, sunk in eternal
meditation. He kicked and screamed in mortal terror,
the veins standing out on his brow like whip-cords, and
the sweat drenching his face. In the midst of a scream
he clapped his hands to his head and heaved upon the
bed, and the room became suddenly quiet with the
dumbness that follows a thunderclap. Campbell had
taken a shock. The coyotes at his bedside held the
tankard to his twisted mouth; the liquid trickled impotently
down over his chin, and they knew that he was
done. At the turn of the night Campbell joined hands
with the bearded Jew, and together they went into the
Shadow to look for retribution on their maimed and
scarred lives.
Through the night the creaking of the sign without was
as the rattling of Death's skeleton keys.
CHAPTER II
RICHARD GLAMIS STRANG bought the inn. Nobody
else would bid for such a nest of bad odour. Mr. Strang,
untainted with the supernatural of the West Highlands,
was young and about to marry. He had established
himself in Duntyre. He was not a native of these parts,
having sailed from the Heads of Ayr, where his folk had
been ling-fishers. For a year he had lived penuriously,
like a Viking, in the fo'c'sle of one of the derelict smacks
heeled on the beach, and took to the herring fishing. He
wore a thin silver chain twisted round his neck in a double
loop. Its ends disappeared with a heavy silver watch
beneath his oxter. Over his jersey he wore a waistcoat
lined with red flannel, which peeped abroad at the armpits.
Only in the coldest weather did he wear a jacket.
A hardy, tall, weather-beaten man with a stoop, taciturn
and slow of speech, whose large hands gripped like steel.
His eyes, grey and keen as blades, were seated in those
depths which sea-vigil digs in the head of man. He
took the sea in his little boat, working his lines during the
winter, and in the spring he sold her to a boat-hirer, and
offered money down for a share in a fishing-boat. He told
the crew he had come from Ayr to found a home in the
west. He was accepted; his skill recognised; his seamanship
became a matter of wonder. None in the fleet could
steer as he by the weather-ear. He went upon his own
ground unquestioned, till on a Saturday night at the
"Shipping Box," a Macdougall, a red-haired, vitriolic man,
half drunk, called him by an indecent name, saying he
was a Lowland interloper. A strain of Irish blood in
Mr. Strang surged up into his pale face, and his eyes
glittered like swords upon the little red man, who mouthed
at him.
"Come on," he spluttered. "Dae ye ken who I am?
I'm the man that boiled a kettle in the lee o' a sea. Come
on, ye Ayrshire bastard, I'll show ye the wy tae fush
herrin'."
A plump smack sounded abroad, and the Macdougall
went down under the palm of Mr. Strang. A laugh from
some twenty salt-hardened throats burst boisterously on
the fallen hero's ears.
"Dived like a solan, Erchie," some one cried; and the
Macdougall rose, his coward heart fluttering in fear.
"By the jumping Jehosiphat!" he cried, "but you're
a man," and put forth his hand. Mr. Strang took it and
nodded.
"We're aye learnin', Erchie, to work to windward,"
he said with a quiet smile.
Thus was he enlarged upon the imagination of men.
Thus do Men found the pillars of their house upon clay,
rust, and mire.
He fell in love with one of the girls of the town, a
Macmillan, lissom, white as milk, red as the dawn, with
an eye for mirth and an abundance of sympathy — a trusty,
wise mate. He had been reared in an iron school; bred
to the sea with nerves of steel informed against the
chances of gales, the darkness of fogs, the welter of snow--
showers. He had the sailing lore by rote; and putting
no store by anything but his business in the waters,
neither legend nor superstition, took the inn at an easy
rate, made some alterations, but left the sign above the
door, where on surly nights it swung and groaned as if
lamenting the weird upon the ill-fated house. On
tempestuous winter nights of the first year of their wedded
life, when they sat in the stone-flagged kitchen, her tales
of the countryside came upon him, not with the stuff of
surprise, but of magic. She had fed on oral romance and
was its herald, proclaiming to him the deeds of her ancestors
of Knapdale, and their mad ploy on the playground
of half the county. Outside the seas thundered
and clawed the beach; the old sign of the faded head
mourned and jabbered; the sea-fowl screamed over the
roof; and the house shook to the hammers of the gale.
To the man the Lord of Hosts was abroad upon the air,
and the wings of His angel troubled the deep.
The whole thing was so different from the sordid life
of an Ayrshire fishing-port, which had no leisure and little
inspiration for romance in its pale flat lands, that his
life became clothed upon with wonder, and he lived in a
world with more in it of magic than of reality. He sat
under the elusive deft hands of a seer, who wove upon him
a garment rich with pearls and shone upon with a haunting
light, here and here alluring and splendid; but there
also stained with the shadows of what was grim, terrible,
and foreboding. He could not feel himself sib to this
glancing wife. This strange food of reality for her had
always been to him the thinnest stuff of dreams — things
he had heard of vaguely, things so improbable and intangible
in a world of deep-sea lines and strife with winds,
tides, and piratical dog-fish that scarcely the phantom of
their ghostly presence had passed upon the face of his
seaboard. Now he heard them, plucked from the life
of a people, and chanted as their gospel by a girl who
crept close to him, shivering at the sadness of her tale.
As the sea without droned the antiphon, and the homeless
wind upon the hill cried the antistrophe, he thought it
was a wilding elfin thing he loved who was one with the
witch-wind upon the waste, and with the changeling
brumous sea. At the end of the tale, as a dog that is half
drowned shakes the water from its pelt, he shook himself
free from an undefined sinister influence.
One evening, when dark-bluish shadows lay upon the
snow, she had been telling tales of olden bickerings — how
one of her race had been hanged by the Duke of Argyle
from the tall mast of his galley within the harbour there
at the west end of the Island; of one that had been out
in the '45 and had fled the country to France, and had
married there — there was a strain of French blood in her
veins; of another that had come out of the foreign wars
limping under the weight of a major's commission, and
had found his grave in the lee of Brussels at Waterloo;
and then suddenly veered to an ancient tale of a heroine
of her race who had slain her son to save her lover. She
ceased talking. Her husband looked at her with simple
level eyes. In the silence they heard the cry of wild
geese high up in the sky — the ghostly birds, instinct--
driven, passing as the arrow of God through the heavens
to their decreed place.
"We are driven by something deep within us that we
have got from our ancestors, to do strange things that
were allowed in their age, but are unlawful now," she said.
"Honk! Honk!" vibrant and clear as a bell it rang out
high over the snow in response — the bugling of birds borne
along by the "something deep" within them — and was
heard by these frigate-birds, a man and a woman, sitting
facing one another in the pitiable belief that they, alone
of all God's creatures, can stem the call of destiny.
She told of her who had slain her son to save her lover,
and of the terrible doom that rested on the name ever
since, and was not yet fulfilled, that fratricide, parricide,
or matricide would yet stain their house and open the
ancient scar again before the house and name perished
for ever.
"Oh, my dear, dear husband, if the doom should
fall on you or on our children!" She lifted a scared
white face searchingly to his. Alas! that every evangel
must have behind it a doom.
"I vowed again and again never to marry to escape
it" — a faint smile stole across her serious face — "but
love for you compelled me. Oh, Dick! Dick!" she
wound her arms about his neck, "you love me, don't
you? tell me again that you do. Our love must keep the
doom at bay."
He struggled back again to the place of reality from
that twilit land to which she had led him. He was vexed
with her imagined woe.
"Doom be blowed," he cried; "it's as dead as a red
herring."
"Oh, Dick! Dick!" she visualised the haggard
spectre riding the back of her house; "you must love
me to fight it. You do, don't you?"
"As weel as I love my mother, lyin' i' the mools o' Ayr
Kirkyaird," he answered solemnly.
She held up her mouth to him.
"Mary," he adjured her, "the time's gane by for ony
mair nonsense o' thae olden times. Doom be hanged.
Wha's tae kill either you or me? We're mairrit eighteen
months lucky, an' hae nae waen yet."
"I'd like to have a baby, a wee girlie; but I'm afraid,
terribly afraid."
He jumped to his feet, flushed and angry.
"Feart o' an auld wife's story."
"Hush, Dick, hush; even this house isn't canny.
There's a curse on it. Do you hear it? That creaking
sign scares the life out of me at nights, when you're at
the fishing. I can't sleep for listening to it."
He clapped his two big hands together.
"Doon it comes noo; where's the hammer?"
He searched, but could not find it.
"Never mind, Dick," her eyes followed him through
the kitchen; "you can take it down in the morning."
But in the morning the frost had frozen the wind, and
Dick was gone to shoot "the big lines" ten miles away
on the Nesskip banks. The sign was forgotten; and the
wild geese had passed on unerringly, unquestioningly, on
the path of destiny.
CHAPTER III
Six months later Richard Strang came to face something
that was elemental. His wife was pregnant. As she
became heavier with child he deserted his work to comfort
her, but could not drive away her fear.
"Pray God it's a girl; a girl can do no harm;" and
again she harped on the ancient tale, and summoned up
the black rider that rode with such sinister menace on
its back.
"Mary," he cried, fumbling impotently with his hands,
desirous to strangle this hideous ghost, "will ye bring the
doom on yoursel'?"
"Oh, no! no!" she moaned, wringing her hands.
"You're like to," he answered bitterly. "You'll kill
yoursel' an' the wean in your womb wi' fright."
She cowered, but clung despairingly to the arms of her
cross.
"Oh, no! no! Dick; it won't be that way, however
it comes."
He was fairly angry now.
"Let me hear nae mair o' this trash an' nonsense.
Your wild ancestors is no goin' to herry my nest. If they
had to labour at the oar there wad be nane o' this." His
voice had a ring of pride in it. It was the first time he
had referred to his people. "It may be bonny to tell;
but I'm thinkin' it wad hae been better for them to hae
earned an honest penny like me an' mine." He got up
and strode through the kitchen, the iron of his sea-boots
ringing on the flags. "They were a bonny crew wi' their
ongoins. As for oor folk, they were skilly at the lines an'
the oar. They werna trokin' wi' princes that hadna a
penny to their name. I don't ken as ony were hangit
or got a red face for being ca'ed a thievery set. We didna
brag o' being rebels an' shoutherin' a gun; oor name
wasna cried aboot the countryside for dirty work wi' the
lassies and ploys at the inns."
She put out her two blue-veined hands to him piteously,
her eyes big with fear, her breasts heaving rapidly. He
pushed them away. "We didna ride hell-gallopin' on
black stallions, an' leave the weemin' at hame scared o'
their life."
She burst out sobbing, her face like clay. He strode
up to her. "Mary! Mary! my lamb, I'm no angry at
ye, lassie; I'm vexed at the wy ye're vexin' yersel' wi'
a' this clishmaclaiver."
"Dick! Dick! Oh! Oh!! Oh!!! don't look at me
that way; don't be angry with me; you'll kill me."
He gathered her in his arms with a groan.
"Downa greet; downa greet mair; it's a lassie that's
comin'."
The sobs trailed away.
"If it's a boy, leave him to me. I'll teach him hoo
tae handle the tiller, no' the dirk. Just bide till you see."
And he comforted her.
Five months later he made fast his boat to an iron
staple beneath the guns and hurriedly leapt ashore. Last
night his wife had taken a fancy for whitings. Since
daybreak he had searched three banks. The white fish,
strung on by the gills to his fingers, shone in the dusk as
angels of mercy come up out of the sea. As Richard
Strang stepped within his door and stood in the passage
at the foot of the stair, he heard a wailing cry in the room
above — thin, fretting, querulous. His heart stopped in
its beat. Open-mouthed he listened, with his massive
dark head leaning forward. The sign rasped above the
door; and mingling with its harsh noise was that feeble
whimper. The hand of something alive, which had that
moment drawn in from a far-off impenetrable deep, beyond
the confines of the world, touched his heart with tender
fingers. A new life from inscrutable eternity mingled
with his being. Out of a vast silence it had come, away
back in the ages. He gasped. Was she right after all?
Did ancestry stalk Time and become reincarnate? That
wail seemed to drift up from the dim spaces of a far
unknown. Lugubriously overhead the sign rasped and
ground out its baleful note. Once more the wail rang
out, now strong and lusty. Tiny fingers creeping over
his heart, set it drumming in his breast. "Good God!"
he whispered, "the baby's born;" and shaking the fish
from his fingers he tooks the stairs in three bounds, and
saw the pallid face of his wife turned to the wall. The
room was heavy with the dumbness and mystery which
pass into the chambers of birth. Lucky Ruagh from the
Back Street was bending over a long-shaped, dark-haired
head. His wife turned a face of woe to him, as she
stretched out a thin white arm and pulled his face down to
her.
"Oh, Dick! Dick! it's a boy."
Stunned, he could answer nothing; and when he was
again at the foot of the stair he was listening to a wail
which, borne, down upon the wind of Time out of an
inimical midnight past, and passing beneath the heavens
like an arrow of God, struck unerringly into his heart,
as he stood listening to the scurry of the wind rasping the
rusty dagger overhead. With every swing of the drunken
sign the dagger was plunged downwards with a snarl.
CHAPTER IV
MAN is the blindest of God's creatures. We concert
measures and cast the most sanguine of plans, and all
the time are weaving a mesh for ourselves. We harness
life and put a snaffle bit in its mouth, and, gathering up
the reins, direct our hopeful course. All the time we are
trotting down a road that has been prepared for us.
Richard Strang was determined to conquer heredity by
habit. The vision which he had seen of the spirit of
ancestry gleaming out of the past had terrified him, and
it was he who was now afraid of the doom. He had
established the house of Strang and, forgetting that
heredity is stronger than the bands of habit, planned a
definite mode of life for his son. Purblind, he was but
fashioning the dynamite that was yet to ruin his house.
The son took after him. He trained the boy to the sea;
gave him no books to read; took him from school at the
bare age of fourteen. The tales of his romance were
figures; his tradition was record catches of fish. The
only doom the boy feared was loss of gear in a gale. The
parents pathetically believed that if the lad got no stupid
stories into his head he was safe. The son not only
inherited his father's temperament; but where his father
judged of the chances of the sea, the boy dreamed of them.
From training as well as by nature he became close-fisted.
Where the father was keen the son was greedy. The
parents, dreading the very word "ancestors," secretly
rejoiced; and the father even tempted fate one idle night
by asking the lad if he ever read a story-book. The boy
curled his lip. "Story-books 'ill no boil the pot." The
parents smiled. Purblind!
Mrs. Strang had no more children. Life became fuller
for her. She lay awake at night when husband and son
were on the sea, not from any fear of doom but from fear
of the perils of the deep. The boy grew supple, tall, broad,
commonplace in mind, a worshipper of things. At twenty,
when his father had given him his own bank-book, he
began to dominate the house. His mother, folk noticed,
was failing. She was troubled with a little hacking cough,
and seemed to have grown lately. She was out a good
deal, by Doctor Maclean's advice. Her favourite walk
was up to the town, round its curving shore street to the
north road, which brought her to Galbraith's farm. She
had often wondered why Mrs. Galbraith had become a
farmer's wife, for this woman read books of philosophy
and poetry, played the piano, and could discourse about
Nature, its beauties, its secrets, and its wayward moods,
to Mrs. Strang by the hour as they sat on the brae, looking
down on the fishing-fleet in the harbour and on the town.
Once or twice Mrs. Strang's son accompanied her on these
walks.
"Gillespie," she asked him once, "what secrets have
you and Mr. Galbraith got together?" There was a
pleasant ring of maternal pride in her voice. It was
difficult to know if Gillespie Strang ever flushed. He had
his mother's high colour. It was brick-red on the nape
of his bull-dog neck. Gillespie looked fixedly ahead.
"There's nae secrets. He's learnin' me to ferret an'
trap rabbits for a pastime."
Times were never so good. It was a word with the
elder fishermen, "When spring comes in with spring
tides and a new moon the fishing is sure to be good."
Each herring meant money. Gillespie was constantly
on the sea. At twenty-five he had a strong name in the
bank, and Lowrie the banker would cross the street, seen
of men, and talk civilly to him. Every man's fortune
is in a lockfast box, of which he has the key. Some men
use it skilfully; some blunder and break the lock; many
tell themselves they are unable, and live by assisting
other men to use their key. Gillespie, a master of craft,
had the wards well oiled. None was defter with the key.
He looked to unlock a fortune, this wiry supple youth.
He had extended the scope of his operations from the
sea to the hill. This hybrid life put him in bad odour
with everybody. To be a fisherman is always a fisherman;
to be a farmer always a farmer. Gillespie was despised
as an idiot, who wrought clashing irons in the fire. His
eye was as quick on the gun as on the line; as cunning
with the snare as with the tiller. He made a bargain
with Lonend, whose farm marched with Galbraith's, for
the rights of fishing, shooting, and trapping over his
lands. He worked like two men; his robust frame was
seldom fatigued. He visited his snares at dawn, when he
had returned from a night's fishing. Secretly he snared
the runs in the graveyard. Superstition made him
immune from detection. In the winter when he could
not tempt the sea, he shot rabbits and roamed the forest
for white hares. He arranged with a Glasgow merchant
of the Fish Market for the disposal of his hares, rabbits,
wild-duck, and trout. He was seldom in his father's
house. If he was not on the sea, draining his nets of their
ultimate fin, he was at Lonend. He was now on his way
there with his mother; but suddenly left her in the hollow
below Galbraith's farm and skirted the edge of the Fir
Planting. In this sere time of the year the place looked
bleached and grey, and was full of a haunting melancholy.
It was empty, save for a solitary man ploughing the Laigh
Park. He was a tall spare man, loosely knit, whose hair
was turning grey. His face had something of the geniality
and frankness of a child's. In the plum-like bloom of the
winter dusk he ploughed the lea, urging his ministry of
faith in a pentecost of peace. It was strange to watch
him at his work of redemption, for he looked wan, haggard,
spent. The fruition of autumn seemed an impossible
thing to this prematurely aged man, and his worn grey
and brown team. As the pallid sunset fell across the
lines of resurrection which his plough turned up, the field
looked a half-torn, rifled purse. At the end of the field
he turned, with the gait of a man who has weariness even
in his bones. In the dimness Gillespie could discern
but the faint outline of a figure. He heard a dull creaking
of harness, and a monotonous voice urging the drooping
horses, which moved beneath a faint cloud. Patiently
they drew out of the shadow of the firs and plodded down
the field. A curlew cried on the moor above; a vagrant
gull flitted by like a ghost with silent swoop. The trees
on the east and south sides gathered the gloom about
them. In the oppressive stillness they stood up like
gaunt sentinels of the man's labour, screening him from
the pirate eyes of Gillespie. Inexpressible sadness, and
the pathos of human frailty, set their profound significance
upon this altar of hope; for though the man was at the
beginning of things in his labour, yet he was consumed with
the modern cancer of unrest. He was up to the ears in
debt to Gillespie. The money had been largely squandered
in Brodie's back-room. Late and early he wrestled
with the sour soil, relying upon the imperishable husbandry
of earth to stop the mouth of the wolf, without perceiving
that whisky would make the ground sterile.
With a faint shearing sound the plough lifted the
scented fallow, but the aridity of Galbraith's heart would
admit no savour of the fresh earth. The dying are not
revived with eau-de-Cologne. In the upturned soil
Galbraith knew no potency; in its young face felt no
resurrection. Only in the doggedness of despair he
caught a gleam of far-off gold in the black, shining furrows.
He ploughed on mechanically, straight and silent to the
end of the field. He was assisting in turning Gillespie's
key in the lockfast box.
The early stars arose upon the wood. So benign it all
was, and he so weary. He came to a halt in the thick
shadows of the Planting. A little wind began to rustle
among the skeleton boughs, like the feet of timid animals
scurrying in the dark. Suddenly a light flared in the
window of the farm. It spoke of the security, the tranquillity,
the tenderness of the hearth across the perplexing
vastness of this outland brooding night. The ploughman
turned his eyes upon it in a long hungry stare. Slowly
he unyoked and turned his horses home, and upon them
fell the deliberate night, as the moon grew by stealth over
the tree-tops and across the half-ploughed field.
Our nature is rarely prophetic of happiness: very little
causes to brood over it the sable wings of omens. Thus
Galbraith, harassed with vexing thoughts, was not
startled on hearing Gillespie's voice as he stepped out of
the shadows.
"Makin' heidway wi' the plooghin', Calum."
This was Gillespie's way — no salutation. There was
something sinister in the tone. It was the voice of an
overseer.
"It's a dreich job," Galbraith answered wearily. He
sought for no explanation of Gillespie's appearance there
at such an hour. The movements of vultures are unquestioned.

The business became rapid — so rapid that Galbraith
never finished his "dreich job." Gillespie's voice was
honeyed.
"I thocht it better to see ye here, no to be vexin'
the missis."
Gillespie lied. He did not want his mother, who
was at the farm-house, to pry further into his affairs.
Galbraith was nervously plaiting the mane of the half--
foundered grey. Man and beast were stooping to the
earth in exhaustion.
"It's kin' o thochtfu' o' ye," Galbraith said, with a
gleam of irony.
"Weel, Calum, I dinna want to press ye, but I'm
needin' the ready money ee' noo. I'm thinkin' o' buyin'
a trawl."
Galbraith was puzzled. "Trawling" for herring was
illegal.
"The Government 'ill no alloo trawlin'." In censorship
Galbraith plucked at hope. Gillespie, on the other
hand, had foresight.
"Ay! but it's comin'." His exultant voice flouted
the song, "There's a good time coming, boys," in Galbraith's
face. "I've ordered a couple o' trawls frae
Greenock. I'm needing the ready money to pey them."
As a matter of fact he had requisitioned no fewer than
half-a-dozen "trawl" nets, and thereby entered upon
another step in his career. He had no intention of using
them: that was too risky; but he meant to sell them —
secretly. They could only be bought "sub rosa." It is
the ideal way of commerce for a Gillespie, who could
make his own selling price.
"I'm fair rookit oot," answered Galbraith, in a despondent
voice. The grey nickered uneasily, and whinnied
towards home.
"I'll maybe hae to foreclose then." The voice was
as suave as Satan's. Galbraith's fingers suddenly ceased
from teasing the horse's mane. He half raised his clenched
hand to the stars.
"By Goäd, ye'll put me to the door!"
Gillespie saw the threatening gesture. He was a
coward, physically and morally. Lares and penates
were meaningless to him. He cut the red strings which
bound these to the heart of the man as readily as he cut
cheese. To save his skin he temporised.
"I'd bide off till the fall if I could, Calum," he said
plausibly; "but thae merchants in Greenock 'ill no' be
put off." He made a gesture implying urgent necessity,
and said coaxingly, as if advising a friend:
"What's to hinder ye gettin' Lowrie to back a bill
for ye?"
Galbraith regarded him moodily.
"It comes agin the grain," he answered. He pondered,
stubbing the fallow with his toe; then raised his head.
"Hoo muckle will I lift?" he asked. We talk of
"lifting money" out of the bank.
It did not suit Gillespie's book to be clear of Galbraith
altogether. He wanted a grip on the farm.
"Let me see; let me see" — in the stillness his breath
whistled sharply in his nostrils. "I'll mand, I think,
wi' three hunner." Galbraith slightly staggered against
the grey, which moved forward at the touch.
"Whoa, there!" he called out irascibly. "Three
hunner!" As a straw is more than a straw to a drowning
man, so Galbraith in the depths was unable to estimate
this sum at its proper value.
Gillespie twittered upon one of his rare laughs.
"Hoots, man, gie Lowrie a lien on the hairvest, an' the
hunner's yours lik' the shot o' a gun."
A man will see resource in the wildest scheme when the
roof is cracking over his head.
Galbraith acquiesced. He was the first of many whom
Gillespie brought to dance to his pipe.
Lowrie was a withered looking man, bald, cleanshaven.
The skin below his chin hung slackly, and was of
the grey colour of a plucked fowl's. He nipped at it
when dealing with grave matters of finance. He nipped
at it now as he interrogated Galbraith. This Lowrie was
a man who never went abroad, save to church. He had a
beat on the pavement in front of the bank over which he
lived; and there, as upon a balcony, he spied upon the
town. He knew to a farthing the state of every man;
and he astutely estimated their occasions.
"A large sum, if I may say so, a very large sum on
a sudden notice." His small, quick, penetrating eyes
searched Galbraith's face. Galbraith, a child of the piping
winds and blowsy rains, was ill at ease in this musty
atmosphere. The large green safe, with a screw arrangement
on the top, appeared to him an ambuscade. Malevolence
lurked in it, waiting for threadbare men. And
this pursy little man probed him. If they had foregathered
in Brodie's back-room, with glasses winking
jovially at them — but here the sombre angel of want
seemed to shake a mildew from its wings. Galbraith was
silently reviling the foxiness of Gillespie which had driven
him there.
"May I ask what you need such a large sum for at this
time of year?
Galbraith seized the chance to smite Gillespie. He
would show him up.
"It's for Gillespa' Strang," he blurted out.
The banker's eyebrows went up; the tips of his fingers
came evenly together. He crossed a plump leg.
"Ah! indeed, for Mr. Strang; I see, for Mr. Strang.
And what call has Mr. Strang upon you?"
"I owe him risin' on five hunner, the fox."
Galbraith was warming to his task. Lowrie held up a
fat preaching palm.
"No personalities, please. That does no good."
"He's brocht me to the end o' my tether," said Galbraith
bitterly. The banker sighed the sigh of a man
of sorrows, as who should say, "They all come to me to
deliver them;" but his tones were incisive.
"Will Mr. Strang not accept a lien on your crops?"
Galbraith shook his head.
"That is unfortunate. Mr. Strang is a keen business
man; and in the interests of my employers I do not feel
myself justified in accepting your bond. You see, Mr.
Strang has a prior claim." The banker hesitated a
moment, and looked as if plunged in thought. The
next he rose abruptly.
"I'm sorry to say that I cannot consider your proposal,
Mr. Galbraith; extremely sorry." With his left hand
he plucked at the slack beneath his chin; his right he
extended in a dry official way to Galbraith.
"Mr. Grant." He raised his voice.
A tall, fair-haired man appeared, with a pen in the cleft
of his ear. He had peeped over the top of the glazed
glass portion of the door before entering.
"Mr. Grant, please show Mr. Galbraith out."
Galbraith, in tow of the banker's clerk, vanished from
the malice which loured from the green steel safe, and its
screw apparatus which ground down the lives of needy
men.
The banker sat down and wrote a note to Mr. Strang,
junr., at the "Ghost," desiring the favour of an interview
with him at his earliest convenience. He proposed to
himself to inform Mr. Strang privately of the visit of Mr.
Galbraith. In this fashion the banker sought the confidence
of "solid men." Gillespie came late to that
interview, for in the meanwhile Galbraith had passed to
that Bank, where the deeds done in the body, whether
they be good or whether they be evil, are husbanded till
the Books are opened.
CHAPTER V
THE following night Gillespie tip-toed into the kitchen
of Lonend's farm. There was an apology in his sleuth--
like gait. He flung down a bundle of rabbits on the floor.
The soft brown fur was here and there mottled with blood.
Carefully he cleaned and oiled his gun and hung it on two
steel-racks above the dresser. The cartridges he retained
in a little canvas bag. He counted the rabbits, and with
tongue protruding in an absorbed face packed them in a
wicker basket, roped the basket, and attached to it the
label of a firm in the Glasgow Fish Market. He arose
from his stooping posture, and asked Lonend if he would
send the basket by cart in the morning to the pier.
Gillespie had no need of stable or horses just yet.
Lonend's father had made money. He had been a
butler of the old Lairds, who had left him a legacy with
which he had set up in business as a carriage-hirer, and
had a shop in which he sold harness, whips, and the like.
He pottered in an ineffective way at saddlery to keep the
rust off his bones. He had financed his son Hector in
the farm of Lonend. This Hector was a small, broad,
black-a-vised man; slightly bow-legged, sturdy, with a
bright dark eye; gross in his tastes; salt in his life; a
born grumbler — no sort of weather pleased him — an
excellent farmer, but with no initiative. He worked the
land scrupulously, as he had been taught, watching his
rotation of crops. He would as soon have thought of
experimenting with horticulture as of using a new patent
manure. He was as mechanical as a reaper, and drove
his men as unflinchingly as he drove that machine. A
man of substance who had no need to fire his hay-ricks
for their insurance value. Ratting was his open diversion.
Everything about his farm was slovenly and dirty.
The parlour, which he rarely occupied, was as musty as a
vault. He was eager to push his fortune, so far as his
limited intellectual resources would allow. These being
limited, he had pushed it more by craft than by honesty.
He was ardent only by turns, becoming alert and greedy
when he stumbled on a flint which struck a spark out of
him. He was, in short, one of that sort of men who of
themselves are neither good nor bad for anything; but
once instigated, and with none of the carelessness of
creative genius, will worry and gnaw at the matter in
hand till the bone is bare. Gillespie was now the flint,
the begetter of fire and guile.
Lonend nodded.
"The mear's for the Quay the morn for potato seed
ony wy." He had had a curious piece of information
from Galbraith's wife, the truth of which he wanted to
test. He pondered Gillespie's impassive face.
"Ye're doin' weel off the bit rabbits," he added.
"They're hardly worth a' the trachle." Gillespie
stretched his back and walked to the pump at the kitchen
door. His hands were stained with blood and soil.
"Ye winna objec' to a bit mair gr'un'."
Gillespie cut off the water to hear better, and
re-entered the kitchen, his hands wrapped in a sodden
dish-cloth, his massive head inclined to Lonend in
interrogation.
"Calum Galbraith's ta'en a shock." Lonend kept
unwavering eyes on Gillespie's face, as he knocked the
dottle out of a wooden pipe on the heel of his boot.
"I didna hear." Gillespie was delicately drying his
finger tips.
He burst a blood vessel this aifternoon, and lost a
sight o' blood afore MacLean got up frae the toon."
"Is he by wi 't?" asked Gillespie dispassionately.
"I met MacLean in the gloamin' comin' ower the brae.
He gied me the news. He says Galbraith 'ill no see the
morn."
"Ay! ay! it's surely kin' o' sudden."
Lonend's bright eyes were turned full on Gillespie.
"MacLean was bleezin' mad; he cursed an' swore you
for a' the blaiggarts."
Gillespie's hand shook slightly on the dish-cloth. He
showed no other sign of fear.
"Me! A didna murder the man."
"MacLean said if he was a judge he wad hang ye."
The dish-cloth shook violently. Gillespie, crossing to
the pump to lay it down, said over his shoulder:
"What spite has MacLean gotten at me?"
"He says you worrit Calum tae daith. Ye thraitened
to rook him."
Gillespie returned from the pump. His hands were
now in his pockets.
"A bonny lik' story. Did I no' hear MacLean tell
Galbraith at the Cattle Show if he didna stop the dram,
the dram wad stop him. It's Brodie's wee back-room,
that's worrit him to daith." Gillespie made a show of
indignation; and Lonend of conviction at these words,
as he answered:
"Weel! weel! he took a heavy dram, an' he's in
higher hands than oors noo." The matter was shelved.
They were content to leave it in those unseen Hands,
which are patient so long with men, fondly imagining
that their pious resignation is the winking of the Judge
at their deeds. Lonend entered upon matter more
immediate. He, a notable breeder of Highland cattle,
was greedy of Galbraith's moorland. Gillespie felt that
Lonend was about to make a serious proposal. The
tentacles of these two minds reached out and played with
each other warily. Gillespie, relieved at the new trend
of conversation, found himself again and nursed his
caution.
"She'll hae to gie up the form an' sell oot."
Lonend had this piece of information at first hand from
Galbraith's wife. He had paid a visit to his afflicted
neighbour while Gillespie was shooting down rabbits
with the help of a ferret. It was upon this mission of
sympathy that he had met MacLean, from whom he had
taken his doleful tidings as news. As a matter of fact,
he was aware of Galbraith's attack an hour before, for
Mrs. Galbraith, in an extremity of grief, had sent Jock the
ploughman to Lonend to ask his assistance. Lonend had
found Galbraith unconscious and breathing stertorously.
His wife in her misery revealed the low financial state
of the farm, and had asked Lonend's advice. He thought
her best plan was to give up the farm and sell out. He had
hurried home to intercept his advocates diaboli Gillespie.
Gillespie's mind hovered round Lonend's piece of
information as round a web.
"Are ye for takin' it ower?" he asked nonchalantly.
"Maybe ay; maybe no; it all depends."
"On what?"
Lonend had figured it all out on his way home. He
stole a furtive glance at Gillespie.
"On you;" the tone was emollient.
Gillespie, himself practised in such methods of address,
recoiled from the cajolery. He answered wheedling:
"I'm no hand at the fermin'; I ken mair o' a boat than
a sheep."
Lonend was pleased to laugh at this deprecating humour.
"Ye're gey keen on the gun though; there's a good
pickle rabbits in the Laigh Park."
"Ay," answered Gillespie. He had poached there,
when he knew Galbraith was drunk in Brodie's back-room.
"Ye'll mak' a tidy bit off the rabbits alone," urged
Lonend.
"Maybe ay; maybe no; it a' depends."
Lonend saw he was skirmishing fruitlessly with a
strategist, and decided to table his cards. Visibly
crouching, he seemed to wither into lesser bulk.
"Can you an' me no' mak' a bargain? it's a chance."
"Whatna bargain?" Gillespie asked softly.
"I've gaun ower 't in my mind." Lonend spoke briskly
now. "The Laird maun tak' ower the sheep." His look
was significant. No need to explain to Gillespie about
"acclimatisation value." Lonend knew the Laird and
his affairs. He had had a master deal with him five years
ago. His lease had expired. Lonend threw his stock
on the Laird's hands. The Laird, a young jolly man with
no head for business and served by a stupid factor,
would not face even a valuation of the hundreds
of black-faced sheep on Lonend's farm. Threatened
with law proceedings, he was brought to his knees.
At an easy figure Lonend bought the land outright. In
seven years he made up the price in the saving of rents.
The land was now his own without burden. Gillespie
listened to the tale with greedy face, and sunk each detail
in his memory. How blind are the crafty! In five
minutes Lonend had mightily enlightened his co-plotter.
"The Laird canna tak' ower Galbraith's sheep; an'
Mrs. Galbraith's heid sae wrunkled wi' books an' museeck
she doesna understan' their value." His little dark eyes
darting about, searched Gillespie's sphinx-like face.
"We'll tak' ower the ferm frae Mrs. Galbraith, an' get
the stock reasonable."
Gillespie sat down in silence on a chair beside the
dresser. His face was thoughtful.
"What sort o' bargain wull we mak'?" he asked,
lifting an intent face and thirsty eyes.
Lonend approached the critical part of the discussion.
He wanted the land in his own hands, especially the moorland.
Gillespie, being no farmer, would take as his share
the steading and plenishing. Lonend would control the
live stock. But Lonend had been fatally fluent concerning
his own dealings with the Laird. He had spoken
with pride; but he had armed Gillespie.
"We'll go halves an' share an' share alike the profits."
There was a profound silence in the kitchen, broken
only by the drip, drip of water from the pump at the door.
The sound was like the drip, drip of the blood which had
ebbed that afternoon from Galbraith's month on to his
kitchen floor. Lonend was too plausible, Gillespie
thought, and leapt at the heart of the matter.
"I'm thinkin', Lonen'," he said, bending and toying
with the label on the hamper, "if it's a good thing, ye're
ower neebourly offerin' me the half."
Lonend leered and winked.
"I winna gang in harness wi' ony other man leevin'."
"An' what wy me?"
Laughter purred in the kitchen. Lonend put on a
jocose face. "Dae ye think I'm blin', Gillespie? Maybe
I'm wrang, but I'm jaloosin' there's something atween
Morag an' you."
Gillespie neither blushed nor hung his head. He had
no room for sentiment. He wanted a woman, not as a
wife, but for her money, and said, "Morag 'ill mak' a
guid match." This direct simple statement had no
effrontery in it for her father, who wagged his head.
"Ye ken whaur yeer breid's buttered; Morag kens
more o' a fermhouse than ony twa." He was pleased to
show her paces. Gillespie accepted them phlegmatically,
and spoke with an air of finality. "Morag an' me 'ill
settle a' that, if you an' me 'gree first." He was naïvely
confident.
Lonend, having now the affair on the rails to his liking,
disappeared into an inner room and returned with a
decanter and glasses. Gillespie shook his head. He
rarely drank and never smoked. More than once he had
spoken in the hearing of his parents of how much he saved
yearly by this abstemiousness.
"Man! man! ye'll hae a nip the nicht," cried Lonend
jovially; "it's no every day ye'll speir for a wife." His
eyes smiled without cunning. He filled out a measure of
whisky into each glass, with that feeling of sociability
which infects tipplers enhanced, because the canteen was
solemnised by the presence of an austere, almost astral
recluse.
"Here's to oor success, an' the prosperity o' the young
couple." Lonend admired the deeply coloured whisky
scintillating like liquid gold.
"Maybe ye'll tell me noo, Lonen', whatna bargain ye
hae in your mind as regairds us twa." Gillespie emphasised
the final words.
Lonend had no doubt about the bargain. Here was
a young couple beginning life. They would be glad to
step into a furnished house. That constituted their half
share. The workings of Lonend's mind were not acute
or subtle. Gillespie was no farmer; never would be a
farmer. He would be content so long as he shared the
profits, and held the plenishing and the house. Lonend
would keep his grip on the stock, interrogate the markets,
and himself buy and sell there. He fancied he could
blind Gillespie and cook the accounts, because he knew
a dealer up Barfauld's way who, for a percentage,
would give him discharge receipts on the stock and wool
at an arranged spurious price. Secretly he blessed that
admirable institution — percentages. But he specified
no details to his attentive colleague. "Share an' share
alike" was the shibboleth for this Gileadite.
"Weel, it's this wy" — Lonend laid down his glass
carefully on the heel of the table — "Ye'll need a bit
roof ower your heid when ye mairry. We'll go halves
on the profits, as I said. I'll buy ower the stock;
ye'll can tak' the furniture an plenishin': we'll square
up the hale price atween us later on. Will that suit
ye?"
"Maybe ay; maybe no. Does that mean the stock's
yours still an' on?"
"Huts! man! alloo me to buy the stock" — he
stopped to wink — "an' alloo me to wark it. We'll go
halves ower the profits. You an' Morag can tak up
hoose ready furnished."
"The lease," observed Gillespie, "is Mrs. Galbraith's."
"Come the term she'll hae to flit. Galbraith's behind
han' wi' the rent."
Gillespie pondered in silence.
"Is Morag willin'?" He did not ask this for information;
but to gain time for thought.
A meagre intelligence rarely sees obstacles to the
specious plans which it has so laboriously hammered out.
Lonend fancied that Gillespie, reduced to considerations of
matrimony, was won. This vulture was no more, after all,
than a grey gull. Lonend was warmed at the thought of
his astuteness. A sordid plan that has become clothed
upon with achievement is, to a mean nature, the attainment
of an ideal. Lonend flung out a contemptuous hand.
"Huts! man! she's fair kittlin' for a lad."
This caused no sort of emotion in Gillespie's mind.
It was simply another nail in the treasury lid of the
agreement. Yet Gillespie was by no means finished. He
had the tortuous persistence of a weasel, with a Fabian
tenacity of purpose. He made no answer to Lonend's
scurrilous flippancy. This had not at all been his target.
He pondered on the chances of a bull's eye in life from
another sort of butts, which, however, he was content to
have masked till the time was ripe and his arsenal stored.
A big fishing-fleet of trawlers was sure to come into being.
The evolution of circumstance, whose wheels grind down
tradition and pulverise effete laws, would create of
necessity a new law. The origin of law is not in governments
that only legalise the incontrovertible wishes of the
people, whose unrest is the stuff of change. The still
small voice of Cabinets is but the echo of the thunder
of the masses. Gillespie had scrutinised the fishermen.
Chance crews were already secretly "trawling": he saw
that the revolution of to-day was the convention of tomorrow:
foresaw the fishing-fleet of a hundred boats
engaged, within the next few years, at their legitimate
business in the seas of "trawling." At present these
crews of some five hundred men were supplied with gear
and provisions from impecunious small traders. His
plan was to kill off those piffling merchants; build a large
curing shed; a shed for "smoking" herring; another for
storing salt in large quantities; a store for housing fishing
gear — nets, oil, ropes, varnish, tar, and the like; a barking
house; and especially to open a big shop in the Square
that would supply the whole fleet. He would have
stables too. He had quietly noticed the country people
plodding in to Brieston at irregular periods for provisions,
and hanging about the town-foot with their gawky air,
shy of the little merchants, and returning home ripe with
whisky. Nothing simpler than to send a bi-weekly van
to "the country." In Mainsfoot, twelve miles off, they
largely depended on the whim of that aristocratic Jehu,
Watty Foster, the driver of His Majesty's mail coach,
which rolled down the west brae behind three horses at
noon, for many of their necessaries; and a bulky mail
meant that the long-expected jar would cool itself for a
season at Brodie's.
Three things prevented the immediate operation of
Gillespie's plan: the present illegality of trawling; the
want of suitable premises in the Square of Brieston; and
especially the lack of capital. But he had vigilantly been
hoarding. If he sunk his money in a farm, this would
perilously delay the working of his scheme. As he pondered
now he saw in a flash an opulent way out. If he
made a proper agreement with Lonend, remembering
that individual's account of his transaction with the Laird,
he, too, could sell out his stock and retire from the farm
at the opportune time. "We'll go halves." He recalled
the plausible phrase. "I thank thee, Jew, for that word."
He determined that his half would also be in land. And
he could realise his money at any time on the plenishing
and furniture. He had only one fear now — that Lonend
might specify that each should retain his half share of
the farm as long as the other lived. But here he overreached
Lonend, who, imagining he was setting up his
future son-in-law in life, did not dream of any contingency.
Again it was, once a farmer, always a farmer. What
was a good living for him must, Lonend judged, prove
even more attractive to a man following precariously the
sea. It was Gillespie, wary as a lynx, who now was
anxious to close with the offer. To the surprise of Lonend
he held out his glass.
"As you observed, Lonen', it's no every day a man
tak's a wife." A pleased look irradiated the swarthy
features of Lonend. He had been anxiously scanning the
brooding, disconsolate face of his comrade, whose anxiety,
Lonend remarked with relief, had nothing to do, after all,
but with the problem of marriage. It was an anxious
time, no doubt, for a man, and rather sudden for Gillespie.
Himself a widower, he had his own loose ideas about
the sex; but these were strictly private. In some things
Lonend was exemplary and discreet.
He generously filled both glasses.
"Here's luck," he cried merrily, "to the first waen."
Gillespie followed his lead, interpolating, "Morag
bring something wi' her."
The giver-away of daughters was generous.
"The maist o' her mither's things are hers for the
liftin' — blankets an' napery."
Gillespie pushed the marriage settlement.
"I'll be gey an' dry in the bank when I've peyed my
wheck o' the ferm." In point of fact he hoped to pay
nothing. There was the matter of Galbraith's debt
"risin' on five hunner."
"Ye're no blate, Gillespie."
"I've my wy to mak' in the world — Morag an' me."
Lonend screwed up his face in paternal solicitude.
"Huts! the lassie 'ill no' gang cauld; she's a pickle
siller in her ain right. Her uncle in Isla' left her in his
will."
Gillespie nodded. The agreement was concluded. He
had made a gigantic stride towards respectable citizenship.
For what details remained, Lonend now exercised his
cunning openly for their mutual benefit.
"I'll see the Laird aboot takin' ower the ferm. He'll
be at the funeral. Ye can mak' an offer tae Marget for
the plenishin'. It'll save her the unctioneer."
Lonend rose and reached for the bottle. Gillespie also
rose and faced him. "We'd be as weel to sign an agreement,"
he said.
Lonend questioned him with a look.
"Agreement here, agreement there; when ye're
mairrit on Morag we'll a' be the wan faimly."
"It'll keep things square."
Lonend, obsessed with the idea that Gillespie would
never dream of relinquishing his hold on the farm,
acquiesced, lest his partner should offer any further
objections. Gillespie, asking for writing materials, made
out a simple bond that Hector Logan of Lonend and
Gillespie Strang of the "Ghost" agreed to buy over in equal
shares the stock, gear, and plenishing of the farm of Muirhead,
to hold the farm equally between them, and equally
to share the profits of the same.
"That's your proposeetion," said Gillespie in an even
voice, as he read it, Lonend stooping at his side over the
document whose tenor was "share an' share alike,"
He saw nothing in the phrase "to hold the farm equally
between them," omitted to notice that there was no
stipulation as to the period of tenure. He offered to sign
it. Gillespie put the offer by, and folding the paper put
it in his pocket.
"I'd better see the Spider first; it'll maybe need a
Government stamp." Sufficient to add that the Spider
did his part, and a proper document was made out, and
attested.
When Gillespie was on the threshold Lonend said,
"I'll speak to Morag the nicht; an' ye'd be as well to
speir her yersel' the morn's nicht."
Gillespie promised and said good-night.
About a dozen yards on his right there was a yellow
square of light. As Gillespie passed he saw Morag Logan,
seated on an upturned pail, with her dark head leaning
against the flank of a cow. He heard the crooning of
her voice mingling with the hiss of the milk. Gillespie
quietly passed onwards into the night. He was thinking,
not of the girl, but of how long he would require to hold
on to the farm. Two or, at the most, three years he
hoped. He walked rapidly down the cart-track and came
on to the north road. A little way down the road a man
passed him. The night had fallen dark and still.
"It's a fine night."
Gillespie, about to answer, suddenly clenched his teeth
and passed on in silence. The voice was his father's.
An hour ago he had been sent for by Mrs. Margaret Galbraith,
whose husband, without regaining consciousness,
had passed away. In that precise moment in which
Mr. Strang passed his son on his mission of mercy to the
bereaved, Lonend was informing his daughter that the
days of her virginity would soon be ended. As he spoke,
Jock, the ploughman at Muirhead, entered the kitchen.
"Mrs. Galbraith sent me ower for ye, Morag;" he
turned his heavy gaze on Lonend. "He's by wi 't."
"Goäd help us," said Lonend; "when?"
"He died at twenty meenuts past seeven."
"Ye'd better step ower, Morag," he nodded to his
daughter; then turned and reached out his hand to the
bottle. His breathing was slightly rapid. After the
battle, the vultures.
CHAPTER VI
GILLESPIE, with hurried step, entered the "Ghost" by
the back door. His mother was seated at the kitchen fire
knitting. She was rather thin now, and getting grey.
A tracery of veins could be distinguished about her
sunken temples. Lately she had complained a good
deal of her breathing, and her voice was noticeably weaker.
Gillespie looked round the kitchen.
"Your father's away up to Calum Galbraith's." A
slight fit of coughing arrested her, and she covered her
mouth with her hand and bowed herself. "We heard he
took a shock this afternoon. Poor Calum! he was the
best man at our weddin'."
"Is he bad?" asked Gillespie.
"They're waitin' on him," his mother sighed heavily
"the old folk are all droppin' off. Poor Calum! he —"
Another and longer fit of coughing took her.
Gillespie, lifting a candle from the mantelpiece, passed
up the stair to the garret. He returned with a bundle of
rabbit snares.
"I'll hae time to run up to Lonern' an' set a few snares."
He walked to the dresser, opened the door, and took out
a lantern.
"I wish ye'd bide in the night, Gillespie; I'm not feelin'
very well. I'm eerie all alone."
With failing health her fear of the doom had returned.
"You mak' the supper," he answered, examining the
interior of the lantern; "I'll be back in an oor."
She did not attempt to persuade him. A pathetic
resigned look came into her face as she looked at the wag--
at-the-wa'. "I wish your father was home. It's weary
in this empty house."
He muttered that he would not be long. Her hungry
eyes followed him as he went out. As he unlocked the
shed at the end of the house and took out a pair of oars
and rowlocks, he heard the dull sound of her coughing in
the lonely house.
His punt, lying in the mouth of the burn which tumbled
into the bay, was easily floated. Gillespie flung in his traps,
laid down his lantern in the stern-sheets, and with the oar
pushed out to sea. The full beauty of the night had arisen
with the moon. A winter mist wavered and bellied about
the midst of the hills. Clear beneath the moon the
summits seemed to be floating out of a turbulent sea.
They took on a myriad shapes — now the battlements of
ivory palaces; now the craters of smoking volcanoes;
and again the black turrets of a giant marble castle. The
moon struck through the fog and opened doors of silver
upon long pavilions of snow. Gillespie saw nothing of
this as he pulled noiselessly through the fog. He hoped
it would not lift as he dodged his boat into the harbour
through the muffled silence, crept across the east end of
the Island, and shot into the shadows of the Fir Plantation
below Galbraith's farm. He made the bow-rope
fast to a stone. His movements had the precision of
experience. With his traps and lantern he struck through
some sparse whin bushes, his feet sinking noiselessly in
the open soil, and gained a footpath. This he followed
deftly to a dry-stone dike which he leapt with a stertorous
grunt, crossed a potato field, and stumbling on the furrows
which Galbraith had ploughed, fell forward. He picked
himself up in silence, wallowed through the furrows, and
reached the edge of the field beneath the firs. There,
behind some bramble bushes, he lit his lantern. He knew
every inch of the ground, and at every rabbit run he set a
snare. The kindly mist concealed his piracy. Gillespie
was not a religious man; but he conceived that the stars
were fighting for him. He snared the Laigh Park, blew
out the light in his lantern, crossed the fallow and took
the cart-road to the farm. He hoped an opening would
be given him for a conversation with Mrs. Galbraith on
her husband's financial state, and vaguely wondered how
long Galbraith "would stand it." At the farmyard gate
at the foot of a wooden post he concealed his lantern.
Assuming a face of solicitude he knocked at the door.
For a moment he stood blinking in the light, and could
not discern who had opened the door.
"Oh, it's all mist!" he heard Morag's voice. "Who's
there?" The inquiring voice was guarded. She seemed
to be barring him out — she, who would soon stand there,
his wife, opening the door. A faint ironic smile passed
over his face at the thought as he announced himself.
"Oh! is it you, Gillespie? Father said ye'd gone
home." A consciousness of what her father had further
said made her silent. Her eager inquisitive eyes looked
out upon the loom of his figure.
"Yes, I did; but I cam' ower again to ask for
Calum."
"Will you come in?" she asked him. Death is strong;
passion stronger. It was he who closed the door which
she had opened. At right angles to the porch a passage
ran east and west. At the west side it ended in the
kitchen; and opening off the passage to the right, was a
small room where the family lived. With his cap on his
head Gillespie followed the girl to this room. At the door
she stopped.
"Have you a match, Gillespie?" she asked in a low tone.
"No," he replied. In his pocket he had the box of
matches which he had used to light the lantern.
"Wait till I get some." She went into the kitchen.
His mind was slightly perturbed. He had to ask this
girl to marry him. Gillespie's mind was pigeon-holed.
He drew out the business for the hour; and this particular
business had been laid by in its pigeon-hole for to-morrow
evening. Besides, able as he was to read men when he
was making "a deal" with them, he was every other
way at sea with character. Gillespie had had few dealings
with women. He could treat Morag only on the basis of
a commercial agreement. He was to discover that passion
has no rules; that the elemental is a law unto itself.
Morag returned with a lamp, which she placed in the
middle of a small circular table near the window. She
stood in the light of the lamp at attention. She was
of middle height. Her narrow, receding forehead was
covered with a wave of hair. She had prominent cheekbones
and a heavy lower jaw, and was rather short in the
arms. This was due probably to the fact that, save for
the evening milking of the cows, for which she had a
passion, her father allowed her to do no manual work on
the farm. The hands were long and fragile; the feet
small and narrow. She had a great abundance of dark
hair like a tower on her small narrow head. There was
an album on the table, and a blighted aspidistra in an
earthenware pot. The mantelpiece was loaded with
white, red, and blue prize-tickets won at cattle shows.
Over the mantelpiece, hanging on the wall, was a photograph
of a ram in a carved wooden frame. Gillespie was
pleased to notice that Morag appeared at home in this
atmosphere of a farm. He regarded the furniture and
the girl as his own.
"Will you take off your cap and sit down?" she
asked, bending over the lamp, and turning higher the
flame.
"I can only wait a meenut," he said, and sank down
on a horse-hair sofa, which ran along the wall. He held
himself stiffly upright. The girl's pale face flushed.
"Your father's just gone. Did you not meet him on
the road?"
"I cam' ower in the punt," he answered evasively.
Without his native cunning he appeared mulish and
lethargic. As Morag kept silent he hazarded a question.
"I hope Galbraith's a wee thing better."
"He's dead." She stared at him, round-eyed.
"By wi 't." His astonishment was genuine.
"Yes," she said in a softer voice; "he died shortly
before your father came in."
"Poor Marget! I wonder what she'll do now." His
voice was slightly wheedling.
"I don't know" — the girl shook her head — "she can't
think of that just now."
"She'll be poorly off, I'm thinking."
Gillespie was getting on to his own ground and his
figure thawed rapidly. Morag met him with a peevish
tone. She had not brought him into the parlour to
discuss the barren affairs of Gillespie.
"I wish you would not talk of these things just now;
he is hardly cold yet."
Gillespie stooped and picked up his cap where it had
fallen on the floor. When he raised his head he found
Morag watching him intently, rather kindly he thought.
At once he transferred his business with Morag from
to-morrow's pigeon-hole to that of the immediate present.
He tried to refine his mind from its cross-grained commercialism.
This girl had been better bred than the village
girls. Her mother had been one of the MacKenzies
of Islay. She had been to school in Edinburgh when
her mother was alive, and he had heard Lonend boast,
when in his cups, that he had "gien a twa-hunner pun'
eddication" to his girl. He knew that Lonend had a braw
pride in her, and sat in the two-shilling seats in the Good
Templars' Hall at the Shepherds' concert when she played
the piano for the singers. There was some talk at one
time of her and one of the banker's clerks — the one that
wrote the poetry in the Gazette. It was hinted that she
was fell fond o' the lads. He stole a quick glance at her
pale oval face and deep dark eyes. She had a curious
way of looking up and leaning upon you as she spoke.
These dark lustrous eyes were now fixed upon him. His
own hard eyes swam in them as in wells; and something
far beyond his ken, in untraversed deeps of his nature,
rose to the summons of her eyes. It was as if the sun's
rays had penetrated to the crystal heart of an iceberg,
and touched something inflammable there to fire. It
would burn fiercely till the gross ice had extinguished it.
Afterwards the sun might shine on for a million years, but
the fire was gone for ever. Gillespie was influenced from
without inwards; while love is a flame which burns of
itself internally, through to the surface of the face and
eyes.
Her lustrous eyes were deepening into unfathomable
wells, and changing every moment. Like a man in a
dream he slowly rose from the sofa, and made a gesture
towards her with his hand.
"Morag, will ye be my wife?"
Slowly she rose from the chair at the table.
"My father told me this evening, Gillespie." Her
face was alight as she drew near to him. Still as in a
dream, he felt her slip inside his arms. By a power that
did not seem of himself they tightened around her. She
was resting her cheek on his shoulder. He could not
believe a woman's body was so soft and light. Like a
feather he lifted her off her feet.
"Gillespie! Gillespie!" He felt her arms round his
neck. They were bringing his face slowly downwards.
Something soft and moist lay on his lips; her teeth met
and clicked against his own. Her eyes were shining like
diamonds. She was curling about him like a soft flame.
He ceased to wonder at men getting married. He had
never dreamt of this softness and warmth. Her hair
tickled his face. She was standing on his boots, reaching
upwards to his mouth. His neck was aching with her
weight upon it, but he felt he could endure the strain for
ever. Suddenly she flung her head back. He slipped
his arm up beneath the nape of her neck. Her face was
upturned to his; the eyes were closed; the mouth half
open, showing the low sharp edge of the upper row of
teeth.
Again he kissed her; and she began to croon his name.
"How thick your hair is." Gillespie heard the turbulence
of her words, but did not follow their meaning. He was
bewildered at her caressing softness.
"Oh, it is so sweet!" She closed her eyes languidly.
"Tell me, Gillespie, do you love me?"
She was so engrossed in her own tumultuous state that
she did not notice the lack of warmth, the want of answering
passion in him, or that he had scarce spoken a word
since she came into his arms.
"Yes," he lied glibly.
"Oh, very, very much?" she whispered fiercely.
"Ay, Morag." Kindled by contact with it, he believed
himself stung to the quick with love.
"Oh! how happy we'll be; won't we, Gillespie?"
She wriggled up from his arm and flung her two arms
round his shoulders. Herein was unwomanly love, asking,
not giving; desiring to be satisfied, not to satisfy.
"How tall and strong you are."
She touched his moustache with her fingers, and began
teasing it gently.
"How funny it feels."
This wayward child of passion was examining her toy,
blind with ecstasy of her possession, when she heard a
heavy footstep in the passage without, and sprang away
from Gillespie as the door opened and Mrs. Galbraith
entered.
"Are you here, Morag, my dear?"
The girl's face flushed guiltily, as she bent over the
lamp, and fumbled with the screw.
"The lamp has been smokin'."
Mrs. Galbraith cast a straight, piercing glance at her,
which the girl did not meet.
"You'd better put it out then and come into the
kitchen."
Passion had committed its first sin in a little lie, which
Gillespie heard without any amazement. The tide of his
mind was gradually drawing back to its normal mark, as
a wave rolls down the beach from the impact of a gale.
He had more important things to consider than the moral
temperament of his betrothed. Immediately he took
the reins into his hands; "Morag," he said, "Mrs. Galbraith
an' me hey a wee bit business to transac'. We'll
no' be long." He indicated the door ajar with a slight
inclination of his head. The girl passed, looking at him
with bright eyes, and went out. Gillespie closed the
door behind her. In that moment commerce had striven
with passion and got an easy mastery. In the lie which
she had told, in her meek obedience, the girl had yielded
all to him — morality, honour, life.
CHAPTER VII
MRS. GALBRAITH was a woman of ideas, not of action.
She had been trained at the Normal College in the Cowcaddens,
Glasgow, from whose murky environment she
had escaped as a bird from a cage. For a year she had
been a school teacher in Paisley, and had married Galbraith
to get back to the robust life of the country. She
came of a landward stock, one of six daughters, who had
heroically, and with cheerful semblance, taken to teaching
to relieve the cramped life of their father's farm. Galbraith
had to pay for her, to take her to wife, to the
Education Department, because she had not served two
years at teaching. This generosity opened the doors of
her heart's affection. He used to say jocularly, in his cups,
that he had bought her like a filly.
She was accomplished — played the piano well, had a
cultured taste in poetry, read Wordsworth among the
woods, was fond of philosophy and, on occasion, would
enter warmly into argument with the Rev. Angus Stuart,
minister of the parish, a gross, stout man, a gourmand who
preferred Galbraith's bottle to his wife's incisive speculations.
She was tenacious of her opinions, and Stuart
hated her secretly, because she often cornered him in
argument. He would wave her aside with a lordly sweep
of his arm. "Gie me a dram, Galbraith; I'm sick o' thae
blethers." And Galbraith's loud laugh would ring out,
"Help yersel', Stuart; oil your machinery. It's her
should be in the pulpit."
Every Sunday she devoutly read a portion of The
Imitation of Christ, and of Tennyson's In Memoriam.
She was a capable mistress, up early at the milking,
and went to bed late; humane to her servants, having a
fine sense of the brotherhood of humanity. Jock, the
grizzled ploughman, worshipped her. In the bothy o'
nights he puzzled over her sayings. "I'm as stupid as
a new-calved calf when she speaks to me," he would tell
his aged mother, who lived in the town in MacCalman's
Lane, and was blind. She despised her husband's weakness
for the bottle, and laboured zealously at her milk,
butter, and eggs to keep the farm afloat. Galbraith, who
had a dog-like affection for her, was secretive about his
misdemeanours, and withheld from her the painful
knowledge of his debts.
She was in middle age, the clear colour of health in her
cheeks, her hair coal black and richly shining over heavy
dark eyebrows and a fine broad forehead. An imperious
woman to look at, with her clear, penetrative glance from
level, fearless eyes. She had the hearty laugh of one who
readily detects the humour in things. Her face in repose
had the calm of one given to meditation. She pondered
by the hour, as she walked slowly in the fields at sunset
when her work was finished. She knew every wild flower
and bush on the farm; bathed daily in the sea from June
till the end of August, when she would sit listening to the
solemn music of its ancient waters, as if deep called unto
deep, and sniffing with unrestrained ecstasy the briny
smells of a half-ebbed shore. Daily she fed a colony of
wood birds, that she might hear their song in the trees
around the north end of the house.
She turned on Gillespie a face full of quiet interrogation.
"What is it you wish to see me about?"
Gillespie found her level gaze disconcerting, and cast
about for a propitious opening by the way of condolence.
"This is a sair blow for ye, Mrs. Galbraith; Morag was
just tellin' me the sad news when ye cam' ben."
The woman bowed her head.
"The hand of God is always inscrutable to us poor
mortals."
Gillespie was nonplussed. Hitherto men bargaining
with him had broken the ice, and he had always had the
pleasure of weighing his reply. He shifted ground.
"Ye'll be in a state," he said softly. He meant this
to be oracular. If she took it for commiseration on her
bereavement, well and good; if in reference to her affairs,
all the better for him.
"I'm a childless widow," was the simple answer. This
in turn was oracular to Gillespie. Did she refer to the
loss of her husband or to her impecunious estate?
A sound of some one loudly belching wind came from
the kitchen. To gain time Gillespie pretended a look of
inquiry towards the door. A faint smile appeared on the
face of Mrs. Galbraith.
"It's Mary Bunch," she informed his small questing
eyes.
Gillespie never paid attention to such frippery in the
olla-podrida of life as the belching of wind; never made
an aside, unless in some way it contributed to his main
purpose. He was pleased to notice the kitchen grampus,
in the hope that by such sociability Mrs. Galbraith would
be disabused of the suspicion that he was a hawk. He
had concluded that she was suspicious. A pirate thinks
that others constantly recognise his black flag. But Mrs.
Galbraith, who had often seen him in her husband's
company, thought him merely an acquaintance come to
sympathise with her. Her mind, more than half detached
from mundane things, was only partially aware of
Gillespie. Truth needs no armour; deceit an arsenal
which Gillespie was laboriously furnishing for himself
without a cause. How much of the effort of sin is pure
wasted energy, mental or physical.
"Is she no' a fair pollute?" — Gillespie wasted some of
that energy — "riftin' awa' there in the faice o' the deid;
she's aye reingin' where there's a daith for the sake o' the
dram."
There is that sort of man who would win the complaisance
of another by defaming a third person. Mrs.
Galbraith was not to be inveigled by claptrap. Her
outlook was too sane and serene.
"Mary has her own point of view. If it is for the dram,
as you say, yet she prefers it weeping with those who
weep rather than rejoicing with those who rejoice."
Gillespie made a gesture. It meant that he cast
overboard the ballast Mary Bunch, that was proving a
dead-weight. He used his energy more immediately
upon his business.
"When is the funeral?" he asked.
"On Thursday at three o'clock."
"Is there onything I can dae to help?"
"Your father promised his assistance; perhaps you
will consult him. It is very kind of you."
"What's the use o' a neebur, if no at a time lik' this?"
"Thank you very much, Mr. Strang."
Gillespie felt himself slowly forging ahead. They were
still standing, facing one another.
"Ye micht tak' a sate, Mrs. Galbraith," he said in his
blunt way; "there's something else I want to talk owerwi'
ye."
She sat down on the sofa, looking at him with eyes of
mild surprise. He took a chair at the table.
"Ye'll no' be left too weel aff, Mrs. Galbraith. We a'
ken the wy he was, aye tak' takin', taste tastin', easier
to corn than to watter as the sayin' is."
"You dared not speak this way of the living" — her eyes
flashed sudden fire on him. "If this is your business, look
to the door; it opens easily from within." Wrath made
her swell visibly in his eyes, which dropped from her
blazing face.
"Wheest! wheest! Mrs. Galbraith; I dinna mean tae
insult ye," he said soothingly. "I've come to gie ye a
bit o' advice."
She was instantly mollified.
"We should all be wise, for the world is full of advice,"
— scorn rang in her voice — "but I shall be glad to hear you
advise for my good." She smoothed down her black
apron with a plump white hand.
"I suppose ye ken Galbraith was twa years ahint hand
wi' the rent."
Her fine dark eyes widened seriously upon him.
"May I ask where you got your information, Mr.
Strang, for it is correct?"
"Frae himsel'," he almost smirked.
"I did not know you were so deep in my husband's
confidence."
"We'd oor bit saicrets thegeither, him an' me."
"Plainly." The dove was trying to outsoar the hawk.
In some unaccountable way she felt nettled at Gillespie
and at her husband's unwarrantable communicativeness.

He put on a sudden serious face.
"Ye ken that braks the lease. The Laird 'ill likely
be wantin' the ferm aff your hands."
Mrs. Galbraith, who had not given much consideration
to the matter, recognised the gravity of this statement,
and at the same time divined that she was dealing with a
man who had intimate knowledge of her affairs. She
concluded that it would be best to let him talk. Gillespie
smiled reassuringly.
"I'm thinkin' o' tryin' my hand at the fermin'." He
drew his chair a little nearer to her. She quickly interpolated
a question:
"Can't Jock and I manage the farm?"
He shook his head.
"It's this wy, Mrs. Galbraith. The Laird's pushed
for money, an' he'll no' can buy ower the sheep" — she
watched his furtive face intently, wondering by what
mischance such a son came of such parents — "he'll sell
them to a black stranger, an' there's no mercat ee noo for
beasts."
But it wouldn't take all the stock, Mr. Strang, to
pay the arrears of rent. There would surely be something
left to carry on the farm with."
He looked at her solemn, — pityingly.
"Is that a' Galbraith's debt?" he asked.
The change which importunity slowly works on us was
becoming visible in her face. The hawk was outsoaring
the dove. The roots of her life had gone deep into the
farm — the byre, the lea, the stubble, the weight of gold
upon the corn, the ruddy face of autumn upon its flanking
woods, the holy silence of its snowy uplands, the sacrament
of eve in the glades, the solemn requiem of the sea.
To tear these roots up would be to leave her bleeding —
to death she thought. The cross of Calvary is always
erected on a green familiar spot.
Gillespie saw alarm in her face, for very easily is the
shadow of trouble seen upon the forehead of purity, like
the faintest flaw of wind ruffling a glassy sea.
"I — I do not know," she faltered, and felt humiliated
at the confession, and delivered into the hands of an
enemy. The good cannot humiliate us.
"It's just as weel to let ye ken then that he's five
hunner in debt tae another man."
Some cover their wound with a smile; the maudlin
make an industry of their misfortune; the bravest
cannot help but wince at a sudden stab. He heard the
gasp and saw her eyes dilate with something akin to fear.
This attorney pored upon her face.
"Are — are you sure of this? She was too stunnedto
ask who the man was.
"Deid sure."
There was a long silence in the room. The prize ram
above the mantelpiece seemed to look down in wondering
innocence. She was breathing heavily as she drank her
bitter cup; but, save for a quicker rise and fall of the
breast, she made no other outward sign of her emotion.
When she spoke it was in a steady tone.
"Then I'm a pauper."
"Hoots," said Gillespie, "ye're amang freens."
"One finds many friends, but few to till one's land."
Even yet she was more absorbed in ideas than in action.
But when Gillespie spoke again it made her realise how
impoverished and futile are ideas when confronted with
the satire of existence, and with that ruthless egoism
which is the spirit of that which we call "business."
"Ye'll maybe hae to roup your furniture as weel.
Ye winna lik' your things to gang that wy; the very bed
he de'ed in."
"What does it signify, if it must come to that?"
"It signeefees a' things. A roup means laawers an'
unctioneers; an' it's no the bottom o' the barrel they'll
tak'."
"What am I to do then?"
These words were her flag of capitulation.
"Weel, ye see, Mrs. Galbraith, it's no' the thing, as I
said, to sell to a wheen black strangers." She could
have pointed out that their gold is as good as another's,
but refrained. One whose back is to the wall has lost
the art of persuasion. "That wad mean yersel' put to
the door. No' a very nice thing at your time o' life."
"It would break my heart," she answered quietly.
Her face was becoming immobile and strained. The
voice seemed to issue from a sphinx.
"Like as no'; like as no'; an' seeck an' sorry I am
for ye, Marget." She took the familiarity in her name
unquestioned. What has travail to do with nicety of
punctiliousness?
"Weel, no' to gang ahint your back, I cam' here to
mak' a bargain wi' ye:" the hawk was ready to swoop.
"I'm thinkin' o' tryin' the fermin'; it's a fine healthy
life. The fushin's sair on a man wi' rheumatics. I'll
buy ower the furniture an' tak' the sheep."
Her eyes wavered and fell. A single bright tear oozed
out of their corners — a feather fallen from the talons of
the hawk. It was the only tear which she shed in the
whole business — the only tear till that far-off day when
she heard the men at the funeral of Gillespie's son slowly
tramp by her little house, and she flung herself, convulsed
with sobs, upon the open family Bible, seeing in letters of
fire before her burning eyeballs the terrible words:
"VENGEANCE IS MINE: I WILL REPAY, SAITH THE LORD."
At present a look of hesitancy and indecision, pathetic
in that strong face, made her wilt. She spoke in a voice
choking with the poignancy of her position — a voice
burdened with the sapping fatalism which she had imbibed
from her books of philosophy.
"The oldest house will have a new hand at the door;
another's step on the stair. The dust that lay in the
old corners will be cleaned out." Her eyes had a far-off,
visionary look. "Mr. Strang, we all suffer hell. To the
good it is the loss of what is familiar and dear; the fading
away of the things that have been precious." She seemed
to rouse herself with an effort. " What is the use of
troubling yourself, if I must go? Horror to the dispossessed
is this, that the world is so large and wide, and
yet has in it so very little room."
Gillespie looked at her in amazement. She was talking
nonsense.
"Who's askin' ye to gang?"
"I — I — don't understand," she faltered.
"I daursay! I daursay," he allowed himself the
luxury of contempt. "Ye canna thole leavin' the ferm;"
contempt spawned irony.
"Give me my home; I'll ask no more."
This appeal would have touched any other heart.
The "lares and penates" had become part of her being.
To lose one's roof and bed is a greater evil to some women
than to lose one's honour. Gillespie edged his chair a
little nearer. "Ye see, Marget, it's this wy. I've nae
wummankind to wark here." He put a tentative
cajoling hand on her knee. She looked down at it from
her eyelids with loathing, but did not move a muscle.
"My plan is to buy over frae you, an' ye'll stay an' look
aifter the kye an' the hoose. It's either that or sellin' tae
a black stranger, an' oot ye'll hae to gang."
"I'll do anything rather than have to leave."
Gillespie was unconscious of the studied insolence of
these words. He was too engrossed in his plans. He
would consult the Laird, "an' tak' a' responseebeelity aff"
her hands. Oh, yes, he would see to that, although the
farm would be in her own right till Michaelmas term.
She was to have no responsibility, no trouble, not even
with the rabbits. He figured his profits from this source
at from £4 to £5 a week. Lonend would have no finger
in this pie till the term. And he had other lucrative
schemes.
"It's a fell peety o' ye, Marget," he said. "My mother's
greetin' ower yonder in the 'Ghost' lik' a bairn. 'Be sure,
Gillespie,' she said, 'that Marget 'ill no' suffer or want.'
She made no answer. She heard a babble of words,
but grasped no meaning in them. With head bowed in
sorrow, she was thinking of the grey dead man upstairs,
her thoughts bent on the sudden terrible upheaval which
is caused in the lives of others by the death of one. One
moment tranquillity; the next chaos. To-day everything
hangs by a name — house and home and lands; estimation,
rank, outlook, security. To-morrow, when that name is
engraved upon a coffin lid, the world has fallen to pieces.
Exile suddenly haunts the shadow of the coffin. At the
last breath the veil of the temple of home is rent; publicity
stares in; old landmarks are torn up; and an angel
of reckoning sits upon the rigging of the house. The
stillness of the death-chamber is intensified by contrast
with the noise of a falling house around its solemnity; its
awful impassivity becomes the more marmoreal because
of the babblings to which its august calm has given birth;
and its sanctity is desecrated by the importunate ghosts
of affairs which gibber at its threshold. He was a hard
drinker, careless, improvident, impecunious; but what
a buckler against Fate: a roof for her head; her bread;
a covert from the tempest. And now the rock was removed
out of his place, and she stood in the pitiless sun,
alone in a weary land.
"We'd better be steppin' ben the hoose afore Mary
Bunch 'ill hae the bottle feeneshed."
He had taken her silence for acquiescence, and spoke
as one with the reins already in his hands; and suddenly
careful of the gear and victuals of the farm. She arose
wearily, looked at him as if about to speak, then walked
towards the door in silence. She turned the handle, and
glanced at him over her shoulder.
"I thank you, Mr. Strang, for offering me a home.
I entered this room a mistress. I leave it a servant."
Before he had time to answer she had passed swiftly
out. In her wake he pocketed the box of matches which
Morag had left on the table, and blew out the lamp. He
had often told his mother that he hated "wastery." As
he did these things he was silently comparing Morag and
Mrs. Galbraith. He had the acumen to estimate the
enormous interval which lay between them in capability
and in character.
"If she'd a pickle siller, it's her I wad be merryin',"
he muttered as he groped for the door.
Mrs. Galbraith, gazing down upon the face of her dead
husband, was spared the bitterness of this avowal.
CHAPTER VIII
GILLESPIE had his own plans for establishing himself
in the town, but he was in a sort already established; Mary
Bunch, that frequenter of houses of mourning, being
witness where she sat at the kitchen fire of Muirhead,
nursing her cold feet to the sound of her belching.
"Excuse the win'," she said to her vis-à-vis, Mrs. Effie
Tosh. How she came to be there requires a reference
to the Back Street. This street had once some bigness
of life when Bruce of Scotland, fleeing to Ireland, had had
his boat drawn down that ancient way; and returned to
build the fortress whose rags yet hang from a height
over the harbour. The Way of the Boat, once royal, is
now cobbled and broken; twisted like the precarious lives
of its inhabitants, squirming among its thatched houses
as if ashamed of its holes, and at every greater sore
scampering round a corner out of sight. It is so narrow
that the sun rarely comes there, being a sunset street
lying to the west and the sea.
Everything that is old is there. The houses, whose
lozenged windows are but a child's height from the ground,
look ageless, and on its thatched roofs cats pursue sparrows.
Dominating its head is the bridge, upon the corner
of which is the Pump, black with age, the chiefest thing
of the street, the eyrie of the town. It is the home of
censure, the seat of wrangling, and the folk who live by it
are all middle-aged or old.
Not a few of the bowed windows in the Back Street
give upon the Pump, so that Lucky can lean out for a chat
with Nan at Jock, the same who is Jock Sinclair's wife,
while she draws water. Sometimes the windows do not
serve; great occasions woo them to a closer intimacy at
the Pump. After this fashion. In the still afternoon
there is a curve of water in the air. Slap! it takes the
quiescent street along its drowsy length. This humid
scavenging marks one bell. Towsy heads pop out of
doors and rummage at the windows.
Nan at Jock is rinsing out her stoup. Everything
depends on how she is facing. If up over the bridge, the
business is one of cold water; if down the street challenging
the blank windows, the idol of gossip is set up at the
Pump, and every needy newsmonger, with a sudden desire
of water upon her, carries her importunate thirst and
stoup to the place of worship. The brightly flowing curve
is fast filling Nan at Jock's stoup, so that Lucky reaches
the Pump just as Black Jean scurries down the wind, her
shawl flying like a jib, with Mary Bunch more leisurely
in her wake — more leisurely, for her house is approached
from the street by a flight of three stone steps, the only
stair in the street. The aristocrat, is never hurried, even
though she knows that Betty Heck is hard at heel.
Lucky lends a greedy ear to skim the cream of the news
before the corvettes arrive.
"Good day to ye, Nan; I hope ye're weel."
"Never was he'rtier since I was craidled."
"What's ado the day, Nan?" She cast an eye askance
at the troop of marauders bearing down upon them.
"Jamie's hame frae Injia." Nan's eyes gleamed;
her face was transfigured. "He just cam' walkin' in,
pushin' the door open as if he'd been oot for a waalk, an'
cried, "Hallo, mother." He had never called her mother
before in his life.
Here was news. But Lucky, not being one to admit
an empty larder, lied deliciously, and every word was
honey to the mother.
"Fine, I ken. I was telt he was seen comin' up frae
the Wharf ahint a big black seegar."
What a warm palpitating world for Nan. The very
cats on the roof must be carrying the news. The Pump
was now ringed with hungry devotees.
"Yei! Yah! frae the land o' the neegurs an' the
teegurs; ye'll be the prood ane," cried Betty Heck.
And Nan flashed, a star of pride. "What dae ye think
he's brocht for me?"
They knew only of large shells with the sea droning
in them, and were as ignorant of the Sack of the East as
of the riches of the hanging gardens of Babylon: but
Black Jean put in a hasty oar: "A monkey," she cried,
making a discovery.
"A parrot," urged Mary Bunch.
Betty Heck, alarmed at the swift graduation of these
students of foreign travel, spoke irascibly: "Monkey here,
parrot there; a black man is liker it." Nan smiled and
shook her head. "Haud yeer tongue: noathin' less than
a white silk shawl the neebur o' the Queen's."
Lucky, who had been silent and vigilant, flashed her
white teeth in criticism of the childish guesses she had
heard. "Monkey, guidsakes; ye'd think Jamie was an
Eyetalian." She turned her swarthy face on Nan at Jock
as if she had known it all. "The neebur o' the Queen's,
div ye say, Nan?"
Nan at Jock nodded and suddenly whipped up her
bratty. "An' — this!"
A long bottle wrapped in tissue paper was disclosed.
Such silence as possesses men upon a Darien peak fell
upon these women.
"What is it, Nan?" Mary Bunch's face craned forward.

"Is't something tae drink?" from Betty Heck.
"Is't thon gold-fush in watter?" from Black Jean.
Dumbly they stared at the exotic, a very nunnery of
amazement and awe, each after her nature eaten up of
envy or jealousy, or glowing with pride that the Back
Street could send out such a riever to the high world.
With flushed face and trembling fingers Nan at Jock
unwrapped the tissue paper and held up a long bottle
with a green label. The sun glittered on a silver
stopper.
"It's scent," said Nan in an awed whisper.
Five pairs of eyes were riveted on the bottle; four pairs
of hands were itching to clasp it. With a dignified movement
Nan handed it to Black Jean, who sniffed at the
stopper. Solemnly it was handed round.
"It cowes a'," said Betty Heck, turning it round and
round in her grimy hand; "the last hand that touched it
was away furrin'."
Mary Bunch, holding it aloft, spoke: "Put it on the
top shelf above the dresser beside the 'nock.' Everybody
'ill notiss it there when they're lookin' at the time."
Then a strange thing happened. Out of the fount of
happiness welling up in her breast Nan at Jock broke her
alabaster box very precious. Swiftly she unscrewed the
stopper, and before Betty Heck realised it she was sprinkled
with the odours of Araby, and squealed in surprise and
ecstasy. Ah! if you could have seen Nan's shining eyes
at her baptismal benediction — her son's gift anointing
her comrades; the riches of the East falling like ichor
upon the penury of the cold West. How cunning she
was, asking Mary Bunch where upon her person this dew
of loving-kindness was to rest, and before Mary could
open her mouth to reply, wheeling and sprinkling Black
Jean.
"I never lookit for this, Mrs. Sinclair," said Betty
Heck in a husky voice, with her nose in her breast; "if
only I'd on my Sunday dolman."
"The bonnie, bonnie smell," said Mary Bunch; "it's
like the Planting in April when the primroses are oot."
"I'm feart tae draw my braith," cried Lucky, her tall
form towering with pride, her white teeth flashing beneath
her heavy dark eyebrows. And Nan at Jock with the
glee of a girl purred, "Weel, we're big fowk for
wance."
"Yei! Yah! here's wan o' the rale big fowk comin';
here's Effie Tosh," and Betty Heck danced with unashamed
mirth. "I'll bate ye she's smelled it doon the burn Davie
lad."
There was something of the earnest of a precursor in
the gait of Mrs. Tosh, and a shadow of doubt fell on Black
Jean's face. "There's mair nor scent in the win'; she's
weirin' her gloves."
All eyes were bent on the scurrying lady, as Nan at Jock
screwed on the stopper and made a deft movement
beneath her bratty.
"Man! but she'll get the doon-fa'," said Mary Bunch;
"she'll be hurryin' wi' the news o' Jamie." There was
the least possible trace of acidity in Mary's voice, for
Effie was inclined to be uppish. She kept a "wee shop"
in the lee of the burn, and spoke of her rich relatives and
her famous dead relations.
She arrived blowing, a little apple-cheeked woman, with
cold grey eyes and a mass of brown hair.
"Good afternoon, leddies. I see ye're at your meeting.
Hae ye heard the news?" She panted.
"We've got mair nor news, Mrs. Tosh, seein' ye ax"
— Betty Heck's lips were so firmly pursed that the words
appeared to be squeezed out — "we've got a praisint as
weel."
"A praisint, really?"
Ay, a praisint; where's your nose?" snapped Black
Jean.
Mrs. Tosh, stupefied, touched that organ, and was
greeted with a jeer.
"Really! really! where's your mainners, leddies?"
"In the portmantle wi' the seegars an' the big silk
shawl — neebur o' the Queen's. Neilsac cairried it up.
Where's your eyes?" Black Jean openly scoffed.
"Really, Jean, I dinna understan' your joke." Mrs.
Tosh, on every possible occasion said, "really." She
had overheard the Laird's wife at a Mother's Meeting
use the fatuous word, and had practised it in private.
"Ou! we heard ye were to be mairrit the morn, an'
kirkit come Sunday," said Mary Bunch, "an' we were
speakin' o' praisints." Mrs. Tosh's face was now irascibly
condemnatory of such unwarrantable persiflage.
"A weddin'; really, you astonish me; if ye had said
a funeral noo —
Nan at Jock took immediate umbrage. She fancied
the whole town knew of Jamie's arrival, and this was spite
and malice on the part of Mrs. Tosh. "I'll hae ye tae
understan' that my Jamie — Jamie Sinclair o' the Clan
Line has come hame frae Injia."
"Wi' a braw silk shawl, the neebur o' the Queen's,"
thus Mary Bunch. "An' scent ye never smelt the lik' o'
since ye were craidled," thus Betty Heck — all like the
spit, spit of rifle fire.
"I wish ye better o' your son, Mrs. Sinclair, than Kate
the Booger has o' her yin. I hae my ain opeenion o'
foreign pairts, an' it was the opeenion o' my faither afore
me. Look at Kate the Booger's son, the nesty sodger
fella wi' his galluses an' his black face. I had it frae Mrs.
Lowrie" — she was always "having it" from the banker's
wife or the minister's sister — "'Mrs. Tosh,' says she,
tak' a skein o' silk,' an' then, leanin' ower the coonter, she
said, 'Did ye hear, Mrs. Tosh, o' the scandlas way Kate
the Booger's son cairried on at the Shepherds' Concert?
The Laird said he was a fair disgrace to the Airmy.'
Them's foreign mainners or I'm an Irishman. Him an'
his galluses an' his dirty face breengin' aboot the toon.
Really!"
But Mary Bunch had scented carrion at the word
"funeral." Her little red face perked up and her bright
eyes watched hawk-like till Mrs. Tosh had shut her mouth.
"It's you that hes the news, Mrs. Tosh. Who's
bereavit in the toon? I was at the whulks a' yesterday wi'
the spring tides an' a'm no in the forefront o' the news."
Mary Bunch always referred to "the bereavit."
Mrs. Tosh put on a prim mouth. She was the bearer
of weighty tidings after all.
"Really! have ye no' heard? Weel, I may say it's a
far-oot freen o' my faither's that passed away last night
at tea-time."
"Yei! Yah! is the Laird deid?" rapped out Nan at
Jock.
The prim mouth tightened. "The Laird's well. Miss
Stuart was ca'in' there last week. I had it frae her; an'
my Lady —
"Then it's the Spider," said Black Jean. This was
the town lawyer — a man of ill repute.
"Really! I'm surprised at your behaviour" — she
stopped a moment, fishing for Mary Bunch's word — "It's
Calum Galbraith that's bereavit." To the chagrin of
Mrs. Tosh her news caused no flutter of astonishment in
a company that was steeled against astonishment at her
hands. They simply accepted the fact that Calum
Galbraith was dead. Except Mary Bunch they all took
this to be the meaning of the word "bereavit," and proceeded
to chastise "the far-oot freen," led by Nan, who
remembered the jibes about foreign pairts.
"Poor Calum! a fiddlin' kin' o' body aboot the ferm."
Her tone was disparaging.
Betty Heck's head wagged slackly on her scraggy neck.
"I saw him last week at Baldy Bain's funeral. He
was that scuffed lookin', I couldna keep my eye off the
tie he'd on. An' noo he's awa' himsel'." Nan at Jock,
who in her maiden days had wrought "at the Bleachfield
oot o' Paisla," was an accredited authority on
attire.
"The tie was noathin' to his lum hat. I never liked
to see Calum in a lummer. Ye'd think he was sweetin'
at a pleughin' match wi' the hat on the back o' his heid.
I aye thocht he was gaun to fa' ower on his back. Poor
Calum! there's noathin' but changes."
Mrs. Tosh saw redly. "Really! it's no wonder Miss
Stuart ca's ye a set o' common people. I winna be seen
wipin' my mooth on the same tooel wi' ye aifter a meal.
Ye're just a wheen o' nesty back-biters" — she tossed
her head, sniffing — "that's my opeenion o' ye, an' it was
my faither's afore me. Ye canna let the bereavit alone
— a wheen o' low black back-biters. I'm just on my wy
to see Marget, an' I'll let her ken my opeenion o' ye."
She swung round the Pump, down the burn in the direction
of the "wee shop."
"Look at her, the wrunkled poke o' whesels," cried
Nan at Jock.
"Ay," said Black Jean, lowering, "her he'rt's lik' a
funeral letter, a' black roond the edge."
There was a silence in which you could feel them hastily
tearing off the mask which they had worn before the
illustrious Mrs. Tosh, and it was a big-hearted Nan who
spoke, hiding her scent-bottle, for the hour of its glory
was eclipsed by the news of affliction.
"Ach! ach! poor Calum, he'd his ain trials."
You could only understand what these meagre words
meant if you had heard them uttered with the world of
sorrow that was in Nan's voice.
"Ay! he'd his ain sorrow" — Lucky wiped her nose
with the back of her hand till it glistened like a beak —
"an' it's Gillespie Strang that kens it fine. I winna be
in his shoes the day for a' the gold in Californy; they're
the shoes o' a deid man."
"I didna hear Gillespie was thrang wi' Calum."
Mary Bunch was big-eyed with curiosity.
"No; he's that quate an' snake-lik' it's no' much
ye'll can hear o' thon man. Floracs gied a run ower last
nicht an' gied me a long lingo aboot Calum an' Gillespie.
Ach! is't Gillespie; he'd skin a louse for the creish."
Floracs was the banker's servant. The banker's wife, a
loud, over-dressed woman, was a cistern running over.
Thus is the world informed, and the secrets of many
hearts revealed. "Poor Calum wasna the wan to compleen.
He aye ca'ed me Nan Gilchrist, an' no' my mairrit
name, as he gied by. 'An' hoo are ye the day, Nan Gilchrist?'
an' wad wave his hand that cheery lik'."
Betty Heck sighed towards the ground.
"It's me that'll miss him noo goin' tae the Plantin'
for a bit bundle o' sticks. He wasna sweert to gie ye a
male o' pitaetas oot o' the pit. 'They're that dry,' sez
he, 'they're chokin' my hens. Here, Betty, tak' them
awa' to the waens in the Back Street, or I'll süne no'
hae a hen leevin' on the ferm."
Ah! not poor Calum, but poor Mrs. Tosh! Pride
hath devoured the radiance of life and hidden from thee,
Mrs. Tosh, what is best and tenderest in the human heart.
Towards candlelight they left the Pump and the burn,
calling mournfully on its way to the sea — the burn on
whose bank, higher up, Morag and Gillespie were, that
same night, to hold a lovers' tryst.
"What I was lik' tae ken," said Betty Heck, as they
trooped through the dusk with a faint savour of Eastern
scent about them, "is this — who's deid, Calum or his
wife?"
Black Jean answered scornfully.
"Did ye no' hear thon poke o' whesels say Galbraith's
bereavit? Who but poor Calum's the cauld corp this
night?"
Thereupon Mary Bunch, a more consummate linguist,
privately made up her mind that that very night she
would examine into the records of the Angel of Death
at the farmhouse of Calum Galbraith.
Towards the full entry of that same night, certain men
of the Back Street could be seen creeping with empty
stoups to the Pump, and there heard with amazement the
subdued voices of furtive fellow-beings on a like expedition.
Together they held curious speech concerning this
strange domestic famine of water.
"Surely tae Göad, there's something in the win'," said
Neilsac, and asked despitefully for a match. They little
deemed that the causes of the water famine lay in the
irruption of a man from the East, and in the visit of the
angel who is called Death. And the Pump that knew all
things, made a dumb guttural sound of mockery in its
mouth as they filled the stoups.
CHAPTER IX
So we discover Mary Bunch belching wind in the
kitchen of Galbraith's farm, and proving to Mrs. Tosh
that Gillespie, who wished to establish himself in the town,
was in a sort already established there.
Mrs. Tosh appreciated Gillespie, because he was a man
of means, with a growing name. But she was now to
bring her private estimation to the touch-stone of public
opinion. Mary Bunch, accompanied by a taciturn raw
girl with beefy face, her daughter, had already found in
the field Mrs. Tosh, who criticised sharply.
"Really, it's no' just very polite, riftin' awa' there in
the face of the deid."
"Ach! excuse me; I'm aye fashed wi' the nervous
win' at night. It's the hot tea that's bringin' it up."
Mary Bunch desired to be amicable. "This is a sair
come-doon for poor Marget."
"It's really a sore trial" — a phrase of the minister's
purloined by Mrs. Tosh, who delivered it stiffly, remembering
the episode at the Pump.
"I'm telt Calum never recovered conscience aifter he
fell in the Laigh Park cryin' on the dog. Marget never
got wan word oot o' him."
Mary Bunch, who was told nothing of the sort, was
thirsting for more copious information. Mrs. Tosh, who
had found Mrs. Galbraith singularly reticent, determined
to pique Mrs. Bunch in turn.
"As ye ken, I'm a far-oot freen o' Mr. Galbraith's —
Mary Bunch's wizened rosy face nodded jerkily beneath
her black bonnet — "'Really, Margaret,' I said to her
before ye came in, you and me will take a jaunt tae
Glesca for the mournin's.' There's nothin' suitable in the
village, as ye know, Mrs. Bunch."
"She'll be gaun afore the coo 'ill calf," cried Mary
Bunch eagerly. Mrs. Tosh was ruffled at this fresh spate
of knowledge concerning the farm.
"Certainly.''
Mary Bunch, conceiving herself now largely in the
confidence of these ladies, became explanatory concerning
her self-imposed prohibition from this venture to Glasgow.
"I'm too roosty noo for jauntin'; am I no', Effie?"
Effie, her tall daughter, was seated like a sentinel at the
window. Her mother flung embarrassing questions at
her without expecting any answer. "It's seeven years
since I was in Glesca, when your faither gied awa' wi' the
Volunteers tae the Crystal Pailace tae see the Queen" —
she nodded to her voluminous daughter. Mrs. Tosh had
broached an ocean of garrulity. "He wasna for takin'
me. Ye see it was the time I had my third, wee Erchie.
He got £15 the night he was born, an' whaur is't noo?
A' in the Crystal Pailace. He was born on a Sunday, an'
on the Friday Jenny, my first, was beerit, an' I never saw
the corp. Dr. Maclean wadna alloo them tae bring it in.
That was the morn the MacLachlans was drooned — a sore
day in the toon. There was a big guttin' that day."
Her small face was held sideways to Mrs. Tosh like a sad
bird's. "Ay! that was the first job at the guttin' that
auld Strang got in Brieston. He cam frae Ayr in his boat
the day afore. I mind it was the Thursday o' the Fast."
Mrs. Tosh hastened into the stream of the narrative
at the chance name of Mr. Strang.
"Gillespie's in the parlour just now wi' Margaret —
I'm waitin' till he's awa'."
Mary Bunch's bird-like eyes darted to the door.
"Gillespie! I wonder what he's efter. But I'd be
seeck an' sorry afore I'd hae any daleins wi' him."
"Really!" Mrs. Tosh conveyed the politest scorn;
"the banker has got a very good name o' Mr. Strang."
"Ye're a freen o' Marget's." Mary Bunch leaned with
an air of confidence across the hearth.
"I sincerely hope so." Mrs. Tosh, rather pleased at
this mark of respect, found herself less inimical towards
her companion.
"Weel, tell Marget that Gillespie's no' the wan tae let
the flies bide on his honey. It was an ill day that poor
Calum ever spoke tae him."
Mrs. Tosh, with the reflected power of censorship upon
her from the minister's sister, assumed a face of grave
concern.
"Really, Mrs. Bunch, I never heard onything against
his character."
"Wheesh! wheest! ye dinna ken ye're leevin' up in
the wee shop" — she waved a chiding hand — "Is't
Gillespie, wi' his eyes for ever on the ground, looking for
preens?"
A raucous outburst of laughter from the Sphinx at the
window interrupted Mrs. Bunch. She cast a glance of
aspersion at her unseemly offspring, and plunged into the
sea of her tale.
"It was Nan at Jock's man that put the hems on him.
Did ye hear o' the words they had thegeither?"
Mrs. Tosh was gradually becoming alienated from Mr.
Strang, since Mary Bunch had hinted that he was an
interloper at the farm; and she condescended to lend her
ear to the doings of Gillespie with the plebs.
"There was a big ebb, an' Jock was awfu' thirsty. Ye
ken the wy poor Nan just works hersel' tae the bone for
him tae gie him his minch collops an' his tobacca. She
took the whittle in her thoom' an' couldna wash, an' Jock
was off at the wulks wi' the big ebb. He 'manded half
a bag, keepin' up his he'rt a' the lee-lang day wi' the
thought o' Brodie's in the fore-night, an' brought half a
bag tae Gillespie."
It falls here to be recorded that among his other
activities Gillespie, in the winter time when there was
no fishing, bought whelks and exported them to
Glasgow. He professed the business was scarce worth
the trouble, but had not the heart to see the fruits of a
laborious day's toil rusting without chances of a market.
If the whelk-gatherers demurred at his niggard prices,
pointing out the hardship of the work on a raw shore, he
invited them to try the market themselves, knowing that
a man can reasonably tempt the market with a dozen to
a score bags bought from all the scavengers of the shores,
while a single sea-side reaper would thrust his own sickle
in vain into the heart of the Glasgow Fish Market. A
single bag would scarce stand the freight. Gillespie had
terms from the Steamship Company for anything over a
dozen bags.
"Weel," nodded Mary Bunch, "ye see Jock's no a
right fisherman; just a sort o' bent-preen wan, an'
Gillespie was fu' o' his nesty dirty tricks, an' told Jock
he'd only some coppers in his pocket."
"'It's no a bite o' hard breid I'm wantin',' sez Jock.
"'Jock! Jock! mind I'll hae a big washin' for Nan
when her thoom's better. My mither's fashed wi' her
breath, an' canna scoor the blankets.'
"'It's no Nan ye're needin' for your washin',' sez Jock
— ye ken Jock gets as mad as a whesel — 'it's the toon's
scavenger.'
"'Hoots! hoots! dinna be sae hasty, man, an' you
sae ill to please, thae hard times. Ye should be glad
there's wulks to gether.'
"'If I wasna thirsty, Gillespie, I'd send the wulks to
Bannerie' — this was the town twelve miles north,
which had a poor-house and an asylum.
"'Ay! ay! Jock, that's just it; aye thirsty; boozin'
awa' a' summer, flingin' doon the siller on Brodie's bar
like swells. It's a wonder the coonter doesna tak' fire.
An noo' ye're at the wulks.'" To say that a man was
"at the wulks" was to utter the deepest contempt of
him. Nothing but abject misery would drive a man to
this occupation.
"Jock got ootrageous mad. 'Are ye no at the wulks
as well's me, ye scabby eel?' — Jock shut his neif in his
face — 'What's the differ 'tween buyin' wulks an' getherin'
them?' Jock was shootherin' the bag when a thocht
struck him. Aw! ye should hear him at the story. I
wis sore laughin' at him. Doon he flung the bag. 'Gie's
wan an' six an' the wulks is yours.' An' Gillespie coonted
oot the money tae him in coppers."
"Really, really! tinkler's money," said Mrs. Tosh.
Mary Bunch made a gesture of contempt.
"An' off whupped Jock tae the Red Tiger, an' sez he
tae him, 'Tiger,' sez he, are ye on for a spree?' an' the
Tiger had maist a fit.
"'Suxpence worth o' beer,' sez Jock the Brodie, 'an'
a shullin's worth o' whusky.' An' Jock told the Tiger
aboot the wulks. Oot they came frae Brodie's quite joco,
an' got Neil Dhus's punt, an' awa' doon the hairbour they
gied like creished lightnin', tae where Gillespie keeps his
wulks in the salt watter below the auld stores, an' off they
loused the rope, an' whupped the wulks in tae the punt,
an' inside half-an-oor the Tiger was doon wi' the punt
ablow the 'Ghost' sellin' half a bag o' wulks tae Gillespie.
"'Ye're throng the day,' sez he tae the Tiger. 'I'm
just efter peyin' a shullin' to Nan at Jock's man for half
a bag.'
"'A shullin'!' sez the Tiger, 'an' them ten shullin's in
Glesca. Poor Jock, he doesna ken the value o' wulks.
He'll be wantin' tae buy snuff wi' the shullin'.'
"They argy-bargyed even-on till the Tiger got half-a--
croon for the wulks."
"Really, Mrs. Bunch, I never jaloosed Mr. Strang was
so near the bone."
"Ay! the kirn's aye tae churn wi' him, an' the milk's
aye tae earn."
"He's the boy tae haud his grup," came a squeak from
the window. The Sphinx had spoken, and cast eyes of
fear on the floor at her voice. The comrades at the fire
regarded in silence the figure which had emitted the voice.
The face of the figure under scrutiny examined the sombre
twilight without. Mary Bunch was heard to sigh gently,
and took Mrs. Tosh by the eye.
"If there wasna a horo-yalleh next mornin'. Gillespie
was up at the 'Shuppin' Box' lookin' for Jock and the
Tiger, an' accusin' them o' stealin' his wulks.
"'Wheest, ye dirt,' said Jock; 'I'll hae the law o' ye
for spoilin' my character!' There was a wheen o' the
men at the Shuppin' Box.' 'Boys,' cries Jock, 'ye're a'
witnesses. Stealin' your wulks' — Jock was winkin' hard
at the men — 'I'd such a heavy list tae starboard wi' the
coppers ye gied me that I couldna walk the length o' my
shadda tae steal anything.'
"The Tiger pulled his gravat roond his throat an'
turned the broad o' his back on Gillespie.
"Ye'll hae tae excuse me turnin' my back,' sez he,
'an' strappin' my gravat roond my thrapple, for I aye
hae the feelin' o' your knife slashin' my Adam's apple.'
"Gillespie didna say a word for a fell strucken meenut.
Then he gied thon wee laugh o' his an' sez, 'You Brieston
folk are the wutty boys; there's no' makin' a leevin' wi'
such jokes gaun aboot.' An' off he gied, an' no' a sowl
kent whether he was angry or no.
Gossip being the compass of a people's heart, you will
see that Mr. Gillespie Strang was making a definite name
for himself. He was held to be grasping, a dealer in any
sort of chance commerce. His sign, in the estimation of
some, should be — retail trade in all sorts of villainy.
Most people knew him to be a sly, sordid huckster, who
crept like a pirate through the town with oiled helm; a
man whose lance rested on the exposed back of the
simple. They judged — and Lonend was among these —
that he was no match for the open-eyed. He crept too
much like a lap-wing to take the high air with eagles or
hawks.
So that Mrs. Bunch's verdict was a plagiarism taken
from public opinion: "Gillespie's here for nae good, I'se
warrant ye; Mrs. Tosh," and Mrs. Tosh, by virtue of her
"far-oot freenship," assumed arms against Mr. Strang.
She deemed as little as the town deemed that it was not
arms so much as armour that was needed in the arena
with Gillespie. In the meantime she thrust after the
ancient manner of her kind.
"Really, Mrs. Bunch, I don't know what things are
comin' to in the toon wi' thae incomers. That's my
opeenion, an it was the opeenion o' my faither before me
that's deid an' gone. They don't ken their own place.
I had it frae the banker's wife that his faither hadn't a
shirt to his back when he came to Brieston. Thae incomers
hae no pride when it comes tae the siller." Mrs.
Tosh pursed her lips into the thin red line of gentility's
scorn.
"Pride!" echoed Mary Bunch shrilly; "he heeds
naebody or naethin'. He's tinkerin' awa' door at the
carpenter's shed at an auld fabric o' a boat wi' a handfu'
o' roosty nails. He'll put a rotten net in her an' gie her
tae the school-boys tae fush for him, an' sell the cuddies
through the toon, a penny a baeshin', an' maybe droon
the waens. He should be stoppit by Cammel the polish--
man."
From the ages unto the ages shalt obscure foes, no
less than Herod and Pilate, fraternise over a common
enemy. Mary Bunch and Mrs. Tosh set their vanguard
against Gillespie, with the Sphinx as sentinel, as do those
who have passed the pipe of peace from hand to
hand.
"I ken the cut o' his jib fine," cried Mrs. Bunch vaingloriously,
when the acute sentinel spoke her warning from
the depths of the window:
"Here he's comin'."
And two snails at the fire hurriedly sought the asylum
of their shells. Gillespie appeared with a bottle in his
hand. His position was yet all to make on the farm;
and he knew his adversaries. He was that sort of man
who imposes silence at his approach. People did not
take him lightly; they waited on his word as a cue, in
the manner of inferiors with important persons. In
addition, Gillespie, being a large full-blooded man, dominated
physically such wizened mice as the ladies at the fire.
Though he was by no means deaf, he had a disconcerting
way of making his hand a horn at his ear; and he carefully
waited on every word, and weighed the most trivial
answer as he slowly replied. He put people on their
mettle or made them cringe. These women had not met
him personally before. There was something rugged,
impervious, granite-like in his silent bulk, the thought of
attacking which shrivelled them up. Mrs. Tosh conceived
a sudden animosity against the wily Bunch for
having alienated her from this rock-like friend of the
banker's. She became emollient, subservient.
"And how are ye, Mr. Strang?" she asked with
finicking air.
"Skelpin' awa'," answered Gillespie.
Mary Bunch, in more characteristic fashion, took up
the cry.
"Effie's weary bidin' on ye an' Marget." She always
contrived to lay anything disagreeable on the broad
shoulders of her mute daughter, who accepted the onus
like a lamb. There were reasons for this. The daughter,
a tall, dark woman, with a dull red face, thick lips, and a
large, slack mouth, had been troubled in the shadow of the
altar. A gentleman, somewhat light in love, had taken
marriage-fright and disappeared two days before the
consummation of love, leaving a tall bridescake staring
in Marshall's, the baker's, window as a monument of his
perfidy. Its little blue banner at the top stood like a
flag of shame flying at the fore. The baker was in a
dilemma. No other bride would purchase the tombstone.
He could not well force it on one who had, in a
manner, fulfilled her destiny, and never appeared now in
public except at the tail of her mother, as her scapegoat.
Meanwhile the effigy lay languishing in the baker's shop,
slightly tarnished, and waiting upon love. The topgallants
of its favours had been removed.
Gillespie had no humour and scarce any bowels of
sympathy. He turned his leonine head slowly to Effie.
"Ye're there, Effie; Marshall an' me wan o' thae days
'ill mak' a bargain for the bit bridescake."
Gillespie could not bear to let any such chance slip.
He knew the thing would keep, and some day, when he had
opened his shop, the affair would have blown over, and
the gee-gaw could be sold at a profit. In the meanwhile
he spoke as a benefactor who would clear this stigma of
shame from the girl. Effie hung her head in red-hot
confusion. Mary Bunch loped in to the rescue.
"Ye'd think Marget an' you were limpets glued to a
rock on your chair ben the room. Effie was wonderin'
whatna libel you an' her had." Effie was seen to squirm.
Gillespie smiled blandly.
"Marget an' me were just arrangin' for the coffinin'
an' the funeral."
"I just thocht that." Mrs. Bunch spoke with emphasis.
"I was sayin' afore ye cam ben that it's a God's
blessin' Marget has some man tae help her ee noo. She
has her ain trials." Mary Bunch belched. "Och! och!
my meat's yearnin' in my stomach. There's naethin'
helps me lik' a wee drag. Dr. Maclean telt me aye tae
hae it handy —"
Gillespie assumed government, and assisted the fireside
ladies to a little from the bottle. Mary Bunch, an
old practitioner at such gatherings, addressed herself to
the elegancies of conversation which the hour demanded,
striking a vein which she conceived would require some
wetting before it was worked out.
"Ye didna tell me" — she squared her thin shoulders
against the jamb — "was Calum compleenin'?"
Gillespie did not hear the siren. He was calculating
the strength of the rabbits in the Laigh Park. There
were some white hares on the higher ground over by the
Forest.
Mrs. Tosh felt it incumbent upon her to display intimate
knowledge. "He got terrible dizzy in the heid the
day o' the Fast. Dr. Maclean gied him a bottle; he got
half blin' wi't. He compleened it was like smoke whirlin'
oot o' his eyes."
"Guidsakes! whatna strange trouble was that?"
asked Mary Bunch, making silent signs towards the bottle.
Mrs. Tosh cleaved to her narrative. "The doctor said
he'd a heap o' suet about his he'rt, an' might go off like
the shot o' a gun."
"So I h'ard, so I h'ard." Mary Bunch nodded towards
the bottle, and drained her glass. "Poor Calum! his
was the kind hand wi' the dram." Gillespie, who had
not been listening, lifted the bottle from the meal barrel
where he had set it down, and left the kitchen.
"Ay!" narrated Mrs. Tosh, forgetting her airs in her
forth-right tale. "He went away that quate" — now
she was indeed the "far-oot freen." A handkerchief
fluttered in her hand — "he opened his eyes an' gied a
wee greetin' sab, an' was gone." The handkerchief was
upon her eyes. Mary Bunch leaned across the fire-place.
"Guidsakes!" she ejaculated; her hand closed over
the glass of Mrs. Tosh.
"Ay, Mrs. Bunch; he never spoke wan word." She
removed the handkerchief, and saw her friend tilting back
her head and drinking. She was reminded of a sympathetic
duty, and put out her hand in a companionable way;
then stared at the top of the range.
"Where's my gless?" she asked in amazement.
A half-suppressed squeal from the Sphinx enlightened
her.
"Is that my dram ye hae, Mrs. Bunch?"
"Ach wheest" — Mary Bunch waved a fluttering hand —
"dinna vex me mair, Mrs. Tosh. I'm that vexed for
your freen Mrs. Galbraith, that if I dinna get something
noo, I'll no can help greetin'."
"Really! ye needna hae been sae smert, Mary Bunch,
that's my opeenion." She rose to the dresser, but found
no bottle. She gazed around like a marooned mariner.
"I'm gettin' fair stupid," she cried with vexation,
"between ye a'. I thought I notissed the bottle on the
dresser."
"Gillespie's taen it awa'." It was Effie who spoke
from her eyrie at the window. There was a ring of triumphant
vindictiveness in her voice. It is profitable at
times to be a Sphinx. It makes one immune from sordid
cares and paltry troubles.
"Ay! ay!" said Mary Bunch, making a hasty
gurgling noise; "that's oor Effie; aye bad news." She
set down her empty glass and shook herself.
"Effie 'ill be priggin' me in a meenut tae be goin'.
It'll be gey an' dark on the brae sune."
Mrs. Tosh drew over beside her. There was one dark
matter which she could not lay in the lap of the minister's
sister or the banker's wife. She wanted genuine and
secret counsel.
"Mrs. Bunch," she asked with a companionable air,
"hoo much mournin's should a far-oot freen lik' me weir
oot o' respec' tae the deid?" The tree of Mrs. Bunch's
knowledge was ripe and profuse.
"Thae mairridges" — she glanced peevishly at her
daughter — "thae mairridges an' funerals, they're aye
expensive things oor freends pit on us." She dolefully
shook her head. In some dim way, over the accusation
against her in respect of that purloined dram, she felt she
owed a stab at Mrs. Tosh.
"Wad twa shullin's worth o' crape be plenty?"
Mary Bunch held up hands of horror.
"Losh! losh! the minister's sister was weir mair nor
that ower her wee Pommyrenian dog. Twa shullings!
and ye're gaun tae tak' a jant tae Glesca for that. Mrs.
Tosh, ye'll be the fair scandal o' the hale toon. Ye'll need
a new skirt, an' a black silk blouse, an' black gloves; an'
maybe new boots an' an umbrella. Ye're a far-oot
freen —"
Gillespie entered.
"Ye're for the road," he said.
"Whaur's Marget?" Mrs. Tosh's face was rather
white. The honour of a friendship that was cataclysmic
had been suddenly thrust upon her.
"Marget's no' very weel," answered Gillespie suavely.
He was anxious to be rid of these females.
"There's mair nor Marget no' very weel," snapped
Mary Bunch. "I'd a sair trachle up the brae. I'm no'
as licht in the fut as I used tae be. Och! och! they
rheumatics. I hae them in the boo o' the knee, an' the
boo o' the airm, an' the shouther heid." She touched
each part of the body named as she spoke. "Effie here
says a wee drap's the only thing for 't." Her tone was
deprecating. She was chiding her bibulous offspring.
"Effie's wrang," said Gillespie; "try sulphur inwardly
an' torpety outwardly. Torpety's very searchin'."
"Maybe ye ken better than Dr. Maclean?" Mrs.
Bunch replied with venom.
Gillespie smiled slowly in her face.
"Weel! weel! Mary, there's nae use threshin' watter;
naethin' but bubbles reise."
Mary Bunch saw that the hunt was over and the fox
dead. She now addressed herself in real earnest to going.
"Thank ye; I'm no' needin' sulphur an' torpety.
Guid nicht tae ye, Mr. Strang. Ye can tell Marget
take a run up to the coffinin'." She turned her small
irascible face on Mrs. Tosh.
"Are ye for the brae?"
Mrs. Tosh signified assent by a dumb nod, and Mary
Bunch sheered across the kitchen floor with her tall
daughter in her wake, like a corvette in a sea-way with a
three-decker in tow.
Without the night air became full of grumblings.
"Is he no' the dour deevil? stiff as a turnip wi' the
bottle."
"Really! really! thae incomers —"
"Wi' his wee eyes lik' a traivellin' rat's, an' his chin
as long 's a lamb's. Any man wi' thon chin can look aheid
o' him." Mary Bunch was indignant, and poured out
her vials to the stars. "Whuppin' off the bottle as if it
was his ain when you an' me, Mrs. Tosh, could hae made
a nicht o't. I'm surprised at Marget."
"Are ye no' just over the score, Mrs. Bunch, aboot the
mournin's?" Mrs. Tosh's lament was cut short by a
stumble in the rut of the cart-road. She lurched against
Mary Bunch, who was impinged upon the paling, and
recovered herself vixenishly.
"Ye may weel spend a five-pun' note on mournin's
efter a' ye've cairried awa' wi' ye, staggerin' there lik' a
lord."
"Dinna insult me, Mary Bunch, dinna insult me; I'll
no' stand it."
"I notiss that," answered Mary Bunch, with hauteur.
She gave the cold shoulder to her companion and engaged
her daughter.
"The mean scart that he is, Effie. The east win's
aye in his coal-bunker. I've been at sixty-fower bereavements
an' coffinin's an' never saw the lik' o' thou.
Whupped off the bottle under my very nose. It bates
cock-fightin'."
And Effie Bunch, the Sphinx, laughed loud and vaguely
to the night. Concerning the trio, Gillespie had commented
to the unblemished bottle: "Thon's no' the sort
o' hoodie craws to burn guid pooder on."
CHAPTER X
GILLESPIE found the ploughman, Jock o' the Patch —
so named from a birth-mark which he had over his right
eye — asleep in the bothy with a sheep for a pillow, and
bade him go to the kitchen and keep his mistress company.
Jock growled at him like a dog, and slouched off round the
gable-end with a surly face. Jock and Gillespie were at
variance. They had met in the dimness of the dawn on
Galbraith's lands, and Jock straightly charged Gillespie
with trespass and theft. Gillespie took a high hand at
first; then hinted that Galbraith was in his power, and
that it would be to Jock's profit to subserve the interests
of Gillespie. Jock incontinently swung a loyal fist upon
Gillespie's jaw, relieved him of several pairs of rabbit
snares, and ordered Gillespie off the land. Jock marched
like a sentinel behind him, and jeered him at parting.
Jock, a squat, broad man who sang Gaelic songs half
the day, had a fund of native shrewdness. He concluded
that Gillespie's invasion had been by way of the sea, and,
searching the shore, came on his boat. He confiscated
the oars, the rowlocks, and bow-rope, and staving her in
with a great stone set her adrift to founder.
As Gillespie on this night turned down the cart-road
he meditated an early dismissal of Jock o' the Patch.
His step was agile. He had done a good piece of business
that day, and felt in a rare light mood. There are some
natures for whom pleasure is the staple of life. To
Gillespie it was the infrequent interest that accrued on
the capital of his schemes — the meagre star which hung
in the sky after the burden and heat of the day. Under
its influence he was in a brisk mood. He was exalted
with the wine of success, and saw himself rapidly becoming
a man of substance.
The night was bland. The moss and ferns were yellow
in the moon. The burn, lined with the dry trunks of thin
silver birches and rowan trees, closing him in as in a
chamber, babbled from its lair its ancient runes. A thin
silver mist, the outer garment of moonlight, clothed the
fields and veiled the crooning sea. In the south thin,
bluish clouds were drawn taut across the steep sky, like
the bows of an ancient army strung for battle, and the
purple northern hills, expectant of the moon, loomed up
black to the tiny stars.
Almost at his feet she arose out of the bracken like a
fawn, brushing a wisp of hair back from her forehead.
He saw her face, as it were, through a window. Though
he did not observe it, she stood as one who was his
possession, and waiting for his judgment on her act.
"I've been waitin' for you" — a fluttering hesitancy
was in her speech. Her appearance pleased him. In the
parlour of the farmhouse one thought had paraded the cold
doors of his heart like a sentinel: "I must play the lover;
without her my plans will fall to the ground." But the
sentinel had now thrown away the arms of commerce, for
that fight had been waged victoriously. He was ready
for dalliance. He felt grateful to her, waiting to cap the
day for him with a love-draught, and was flattered that
a woman should thus minister to him. The tragedy was
that the woman was waiting upon herself, tending the
flame of her own passion. The scents of the night
drifting from hill and shore were the incense upon the
altar.
Her head was bare. Her fascination aided the subtle
Power of the night. A spirit of youth walked the dusk.
He stepped within a magic ring and, peering down into
her luminous face, was drowned in the lustrous eyes.
"I expected ye," he answered, and was pleased at the
sudden light which the lie evoked upon her face. This
was a new power he possessed — of moving the countenance
of a woman. Satisfaction that was almost a thrill seized
him. He proceeded to experiment with this power. He
caught her hands. The girl did not now invite him.
Instinctively she was asserting her right within the most
ancient empire in the world. She knew she would be
wooed; and, like the female, was prepared to run that
she might hear the delicious thunder of the pursuing feet
of the male whom she had lured. Around them the world
stood still and the stars listened. A strange new power
this! It could create flame and a sea of witchery. They
were being swept on a river of fire beyond the world and
the things of time. She swayed as a flower in the wind in
his arms. Her hair was a fragrant cloud. Beyond the world,
beyond time; where the blood beat thickly in one's ears.
"Oh! oh! you're hurtin' me."
It was a sob rather than words. They were in a cloud
of fire beyond the world, beyond time. Everything
around was white like snow in the moonlight. Gillespie
wooed her in the shadow of a whin bush.
Far across the moon-whitened bay a woman lay
sleeping in the "Ghost." She stirred and moaned in her
sleep, for she dreamt of the ancient doom that lay upon
her house. By a burn-side, that was crying like a fretting
child, the working of the doom was begun.
Feverish, a little hysterical, Morag went up the cartroad
between the ruts. The burn, on her left, crooned on,
visionary, impalpable, lit with the light of dreams, a grey
wayfarer, eternally singing in its coldness with elfin voice.
Her heart was throbbing tumultuously; and the burn
sang and pulsed with its ancient lure. At the gate she
stumbled on a lantern, picked it up, and moved slowly to
the house.
Opposite the whin bush the burn lay dark and silent
in a pool, from which it issued to go down to the sea, where
death sits in the grey shadows waiting for the men who,
in little boats, tempt her among the isles where the southeast
wind hangs out upon the sky the battle bows of
heaven. Fraught with the experience and knowledge of
its long journey from the hills, past the Pump and the
"wee shop" of Mrs. Tosh, it issues from its dark pool
with a single note of the still small voice that is bred of
the earthquake and the fire, repeating its tragic chorus —
that which is shall be; sorrow, grief, and heartaches for
ever springing up from the ashes of desire in clear, quenchless
flame between the cherubim in the face of God.
Something had stirred within Morag, new, strange, and
wild. As the bright ribbon of the burn flashed, she felt
a magic light glitter on the current of her own life. She
did not dream that the moon which cast the light on the
burn was a cold luminary. The inflammable in the heart
of her lover had taken fire; rapidly it would burn out;
and the ice of greed would grip and sterilise. She hung
out of her window, a yearning look on her face, and heard
the plash of his oars and their roll in the rowlocks as he
crossed the star-powdered bay. She saw the boat trail,
a dark speck in the moon, across the east end of the island
and vanish. Then silence fell upon the living and the dead
in the house of Muirhead. Without the lonely burn
whispered to the night in the voice of a lorelei spirit
gloating over a foundering boat drifting through the
dark to the sounding weir.
She stripped and stretched herself out upon the bed
on her back, her mind moving swiftly, like a shuttle of
flame upon the loom of love.
CHAPTER XI
GILLESPIE conceived the stars to be fighting for him in
their courses. Certain accredited seamen of the port,
Ned o' the Horn, Lang Jamie, and Big Finla' in especial,
manned the forlorn hope, being the pick of the fleet.
Big Finla' was known as the Pilot of the Port, for he could
sniff home like a terrier through the darkest snow-shower,
and make a reach by the weather-ear from the recollection
of old sailing-songs, and the wise sayings of dead mariners;
while Ned o' the Horn, the husband of Black Jean, had
seen the grey blunt cliffs of Magellan full of black stars,
and the spindrift rise like the spouting of whales upon
the iron cliffs there. He had lost an arm on the black
thundering cape. Neilsac, husband to Betty Heck, was
one of the company — a tom-tit of a man, with nerves of
steel. Inasmuch as the picked men of the port were tall,
reticent fellows, it was left to the alert tongue of Neilsac
to inform the "Shipping Box" of how they got their beards
bleached in the gale, when news came that Jock o' the
Patch lay dying on the Barlaggan Hill, having by a mischance
stumbled in the heather, and shot himself with the
gun he carried. He had been searching for foxes. It was
the dog of the Barlaggan shepherd which nosed him out;
and the shepherd who bore him on his shoulders three
miles across the breast of the hill to his house, then
walked seven miles across the hill in a screaming gale in
the heart of a pitch-black night into Brieston to inform
Maclean. Even the Barlaggan shepherd could not tell
how he had accomplished that herculean journey. He
only knew that the fear of death was the scourge at his
heels.
The picked men of the port took the sea in all its
raging to carry the doctor to the dying man. He had a
mother, who was living in MacCalman's Lane, and she was
a widow and was blind.
"It was rainin' in sheets when we came doon tae the
skift" — Neilsac told the tale — "The doctor was aboard.
'Tell the policeman we can't wait,' I heard him cry.
"An' there was the bobby rubbin' his eyes wi' the
sleep. Ye'd think wi' his red hairy face he'd been caught
in birdlime. He heard the doctor.
"'By Chove!' sez he, I'll go, if I hey to sweem.'
"It was smooth watter oot tae the 'Ghost'; but oh!
boys-a-boys, it was blowin' good O! frae the suthard — fair
glens o' seas runnin' oot oh the Loch. We'd four reefs in,
an', being close-hauled, I got into the fo'c'sle beside the
bobby for the jib. Just wi' that we opened Rudh'a' Mhail
an' she got the weight o' the sea, bow under. Ye ken in
the deid o' winter we werena oot at the fushin'; an' beds
an' nets were lyin' aboot; an' the hale laggery fetched
away tae leeward, an' the bobby wi' them. If ye ever
saw a greetin' bubbly-jock it was Cammel the bobby.
His face was lik' a foozy moon in the fog. Weel, I cried
tae Big Finla' tae ease her a bit till I got the jib on her —
Lang Jamie was by him at the sheet; an' there was the
bobby standin' at the break o' the fo'c'sle — the very
worst place he could stand in. I told him tae come awa'
doon aft beside the doctor, but he thought I was takin'
a fiver oot o' him. So I just left him jaloosin'. Off the
Fraoch Island she was staggerin' in tae 't, good O! when
she took wan green lump aboard an' it drenched the bobby,
runnin' oot at his boots. We saw him crawlin' aft, and
sez he, 'Iss it to hell we'll be goin', or tae Jock o' the
Patch? my legs iss aal wet.'
"'This is noathin' tae the time o' war,' sez I.
"'Then, boys,' sez he, I don't envy ye your chob.'
"'Weel,' sez I tae him, 'ye might gie us a wee bit more
rope on a Setterday night if we go on the spree. Ye see
something o' what we hae tae thole.'
"'Dhia!' sez he, 'if I get home to the poliss-station
I'll be giffin' you aal the rope you'll be wantin' to hang
yerself, by Chove!'
"We managed tae get her in tae the Black Hole ablow
Barlaggan. We left the bobby an' Ned o' the Horn
aboard, an' took the brae up tae the shuppurd's hoose.
It was black as the earl o' hell's wescuts. An' O! boys,
thon was a sight. I tell ye, boys, poor Jock's veins were
hingin' aboot his legs lik' a weepin' willow-tree. He was
fair sweemin' in blood. I canna tell ye what Maclean did,
for I hadna the he'rt tae look. By the Lord! boys,
but Maclean's a man, I'm tellin' ye! We cairried poor
Jock in a blanket through the heather. Och! och! boys,
I can hear him groanin' yet. An' there was the job tae
get him aboard. Maclean and Lang Jamie were oot tae
their airm-pits, an' poor Jock was blin' wi' the spindrift.
I thought I was leevin' in eternity the time we took gettin'
him aboard. Och! och! the squeals o' him. 'Clare tae
Goäd, I'll hear them on my daithbed. It was fair win'
runnin' home, an' a' the time Maclean was on his knees
beside Jock. We reached the Quay, an' off gied the
bobby tae the 'Ghost' tae get Gillespie's barrow, oot o' the
auld store where he hes the wulks. The mean deevil, he
winna gie Cammel the key, in case he'd steal his wulks,
but kept him waitin' till he'd thrown on his clothes."
Some one in the dark of the "Shipping Box" swore
softly. "He'll get his belly full o' wulks some day."
"We hurled Jock up the street tae his auld blin'
mither. I tell ye, boys, I couldna stey longer; my blood
was lik' watter wi' thon cries o' poor Jock —"
The moment Jock o' the Patch was brought to the
stair foot he ceased moaning.
"She canna see; an' she's no' goin' tae hear," he
babbled. These were the only words he had spoken since
the journey began.
They heard the blind woman groping about on the
stair-head.
"Is that you, Jock?"
"Ay, it's me!"
"It's a wonder ye won hame a nicht lik' this."
"For Goäd's sake somebody speak tae her," moaned the
dying man.
"I'm comin' up, granny, to licht the lamp," Gillespie
cried, and ascended the stair. She had been sitting
waiting, waiting, her own darkness within, gross darkness
without.
At Gillespie's voice, Jock o' the Patch opened his eyes.
"Maclean," he whispered.
The doctor knelt down.
"Tell Marget — tae hae — nae dailin's — wi' Gillespie;
he's a — damn thief — he's — rabbits," the voice trailed
away; the sweat of anguish poured down his face.
Their hands were wet with blood as they bore him up
the stair and laid him on the bed. A fierce gust of wind
dragged the barrow down the street. At the scrunch
the sick man stirred and opened his eyes, and saw the lean
crooked hands of his mother wavering over him, feeling
for him. He tried to signal with his eyes that they should
take her away. But Gillespie had darted down the stair
after the barrow; Maclean was at the dresser, writing on
a slip of paper the two words "hypodermic case." He
gave it to Ned o' the Horn, with a whispered injunction
that he was to rouse Kyle, his chemist. The hands descended
— worn tentacles of love — and touched his face.
"Where are ye hurt, Jock?"
He muttered doggedly, "I'm no' hurt."
"Ay! ye're like your faither, dour as daith."
The hands were rapidly moving over him.
"Dinna tell me ye're no' hurt."
"It's only — a bit — scratch."
"A geyan scratch: ye're no' the wan tae be cairrit
hame for a scratch, ye dour deevil."
The dying man groaned.
Her voice became wheedling, "Dinna be sae thrawn,
Jock, my man. A gun's no a chancy thing. Tell me noo,
is that the place, Jack?" She spoke as if the benign
maternal touch would draw the balm from Gilead and
soothe his wounds.
"Ay," — her hands were groping over the region of his
heart. "It's there — I'm — hurt."
Ned o' the Horn entered, followed by Campbell, the
policeman, and Lang Jamie, who had remained behind
to help Big Finla' to moor the skiff. Ned o' the Horn
handed the doctor a small Russian leather case. The
doctor lifted the lamp from the dresser and placed it on the
kitchen table, where there was a cup and saucer, half a
loaf, and some butter on a cracked plate. The doctor
asked for water, and getting it from Ned o' the Horn,
stooped over the table beside the lamp, his grey beard
looking white in the light. The policeman, big-eyed,
watched him drawing a liquid from the saucer into a thin
tube, which ended in a shining point of steel.
"Now, Jock, I'm ready." Maclean straightened himself.
His voice rang cheerily through the kitchen. The
policeman felt grateful to the doctor for something invigorating
in the words. In some dim way the policeman
felt the power of archangels to be in the thin shining steel
tube.
"Is that Jock's medicine, doctor?" The hands remained,
the bandage of motherhood, over the son's heart.
The blind face was turned over the shoulder in interrogagation.
Maclean took her by the arm and gently drew
her from the bedside. "I'm going to give Jock his
medicine." He signed to Lang Jamie, who was towering
up at the fireplace, to lead her to a chair. The blind
woman refused to move.
"Aw! mo thruaigh! mo thruaigh! I felt a hand lik'
a bone on me last nicht in my sleep. It wasna chancy.
An' me sae blin'; I canna see ye, Jock."
Maclean had shouldered quietly past her to the bed--
head. With a pair of scissors he deftly cut away the
sleeve of Jock's jacket, shirt, and semmet and bared the
arm. With blinking eyes and racing heart the policeman
watched the point of the needle piercing the skin. There
was no sound in the room but the sick man's quick
breathing. The wind scurried along the street like a rout
of panic-stricken animals. Jock opened his eyes and
gazed once, long and deep, into the eyes of Maclean.
The doctor nodded and smiled.
"You'll sleep now."
The dying man caught the note of compassion, and
lifted his right hand. Maclean took it. The eyes closed.
After a few moments the doctor laid the hand down
on the blanket.
A step was heard on the stair. It was Gillespie's. He
had secured his barrow. Just as he entered the room,
Jock opened his eyes, and turned them to the door,
without movement of his head.
"What o'clock is't?" he asked in a strong, clear voice.
Gillespie consulted a vast mechanism of silver.
"Twenty meenuts to five."
The eyes closed again. Jock took a deep breath.
"The morphia has got him," said Maclean.
Suddenly the sick man began to babble in a whispering
voice of a fox in the Laigh Park among the lambs. Twice
he uttered Gillespie's name. Maclean, tugging fiercely at
his grey moustache, stood looking down at him. The
policeman's eyes were hungrily fixed on the doctor, as if
he were some divine oracle about to speak. But it was
not Maclean who spoke.
"Jock's ower quate, doctor," moaned the blind mother.
Maclean was gnawing savagely at the grey moustache.
When people met him in the street pulling at that moustache
they left him alone. It was over that moustache
he fought many a death-and-life case.
A faint, indistinct whispering came from the bed. It
sounded grotesque from such a man. The blind woman
pricked her ears; but a heavy gust of wind boomed in the
chimney, and the rain cried on the window.
"Ower quate, doctor; ower quate. He's takin' the
high road aifter his faither."
The policeman leaned tremblingly forward to gape
upon Maclean's face, as if he were indeed about to summon
the dread Angel.
"Ay! damn it!" cried the doctor, spitting out the end
of his moustache, and the tears welling in his eyes; "but
we'll send him out easy."
The breathing suddenly became laboured, and the
whites of the eyes rolled upwards. Gillespie, who was
watching, turned away and looked into the fire. The head
jerked upwards with every breath and fell forward again.
A choking gurgle rolled in the throat.
The blind woman stretched out her hands over the bed,
and turned her face upwards to the ceiling.
"Behold, the Bridegroom cometh," she cried, "for you,
Jock, my son."
The laboured breathing ceased: the eyes were fixed
upwards in a heavy stare. The mouth hung open, with
the drooping ends of the black moustache falling over the
lip. A deep silence filled the room. Every eye there was
upon the face of Jock o' the Patch, except Gillespie's and
the blind mother's.
"Dhia! Dhia!" whispered the policeman; "iss he
gone?"
No one answered.
The wind moaned in a long sough down the street and
whined in the chimney.
Tick-tack! tick-tack! the wag-at-the-wa' hammered
the moments upon the anvil of eternity.
Maclean stepped to the bed and stooped down to the
wide-open mouth. Then he raised his tall form, turned
and gazed at Gillespie.
"The Bridegroom has come," he said, in a low, solemn
voice.
Thus, as the cocks were crying towards the winter dawn,
Jock o' the Patch, the one man whom Gillespie feared,
having died, Gillespie conceived that the stars were
fighting for him in their courses. He was beginning to
learn that Death is a more powerful lever than Life.
CHAPTER XII
ANOTHER circumstance Gillespie took blithely as the
result of those excellent warring stars. Morag Logan was
pregnant. This would force him to marry earlier than he
had anticipated, and make the dismissal of Galbraith's
widow at Whitsunday easy. She was bound to see in
reason that she could not remain where a young wife was
coming.
He was on his way now to Nathanael McAskill to have
his agreement with Lonend drawn out in proper form.
This gentleman was nicknamed the Spider — a tall, one--
eyed man, thin as a wire, with spindly legs, who had the
appearance of bearing down upon one like a landslide.
He was learned in the filthy secrets of the town, and had
the look of a lean fox as he hung in the offing like a pirate,
and came to heel at a nod. He was a suave liar. His
clean-shaven face was smoothed with perjury. He was
relied upon at certain festivities as a singer of indecent
songs. This was his popular accomplishment. He knew
law, and had been a clever student at Glasgow University
in the old days, when the University was situate in the
High Street. He was especially clever at conveyancing;
had no friends or relatives; was one of that sort of miserable
men whose name was most frequently used as a subject
for a jibe; and he was so degraded that he acquiesced
in the jibe. One can imagine him fawning upon the devil
when Satan gathered him by main force to the Pit. No
one believed that he could be herded there by wile.
He was bland as wine and as sparkling, when men
hatched plots with him, and the whisky was between them.
His lean face would be eagerly cocked, his single eye
bright, like a pecking bird's, and his tongue ready either
for defamation, a witticism, or a story, as it suited the
humour of his client. But there was nothing rapacious
in him or venomous. He simply did sharp things to
satisfy the cunning of his nature. Altogether too silky
and sleuth-like, and a dangerous tool; but a golden
solicitor; for he was such a despised devil that retaliation
was sure to fall upon him and not upon his client. Therefore,
when Gillespie buttoned up the agreement and
walked out of his dingy office, saying it would take more
than Lonend's teeth to bite through the bargain, and that
he would see the lawyer later, Nathanael McAskill wetted
his thin lips with the point of his tongue and smiled,
recognising that he had met a rogue peer to himself.
Gillespie called at the bank. This was in answer to
the summons which Mr. Lowrie had sent him. But Mr.
Lowrie was out, the clerk informed him. Gillespie was
pleased at the clerk's deference, and, in good humour,
went to Lonend, whom he found threshing corn in a huge
machine which perambulated the county, and for whose
hire he paid at the rate of seven-and-six an hour.
We carry our coffins on hand-spokes to the graveyard,
each man taking turn and turn about. The chief mourners
walk ahead of the coffin; cousins, uncles, nephews,
and the like behind; after whom trails the line of the
procession. Lonend had walked with the Laird, who was
present at the obsequies of one of his farmers, and, sounding
him, arranged in a fashion for the transfer of the farm.
At first the Laird was averse, but, learning of Galbraith's
debt to Gillespie and that the widow was bankrupt,
haltingly gave his consent. He was glad to have such
strong tenants as Lonend and Gillespie Strang. Lonend
learned that at Whitsunday next three years' rent would
be due on the Muirhead farm. The lease would be transferred
to them jointly in their names. The Laird fancied
it had some four or five years to run, but wasn't sure.
Lonend told all this to Gillespie as they walked slowly
from the barn door to the house; but when Lonend saw
the legal document spread before him on the kitchen table
he hesitated.
"It's you that's in for the fat o' the ham." Lonend had
had time to think. Secretly he was not without bowels
of pity for his neighbour, Mrs. Galbraith. "Yell get a
sittin' doon, an' ye're takin' Morag frae me. I'll hae to
fee a servant noo to fill her place. I'm kin' o' sweert to
venture it."
In point of fact the trouble was not the hiring of an
additional servant. Lonend was inordinately proud of
his daughter, and lavished all the affection of his nature
upon her. He was doubtful if Gillespie would make her
happy.
"Hoots!" cried Gillespie; "never heed lossin' the milk,
if ye get the cream. What's the sense o' ye speirin' the
Laird an' me peyin' for this" — he laid his forefinger on
the legal document — "if it's a' goin' to end in smock?
Ye'll only mak' a fule o' the hale business." Which
decided the wavering Lonend. He tried to draw the
sleep-hindering thorn from his conscience.
"My grandfaither used tae say when a sheep broke
awa' at the clippin', 'Let her go; she'll no' leave the
ferm.'"
"We'll no' be in ony hurry wi' the ewe" — and Gillespie
smiled. Having placated his conscience, Lonend became
pleasant to his future son-in-law.
"Ye've fa'en on your feet, Gillespie. Though ye put
your hand in a ballot-box ye couldna be luckier," and he
took up the pen and signed. The business being completed,
he was anxious to be rid of both the document and
the man. "I snowkit snaw in the west. I'll best go
gether in the sheep. There was frost in the stars last
nicht." Gillespie did not seek to detain him. He was in
a hurry to inform Mrs. Galbraith of the state of affairs.
Lonend, on his way to the thresher, found Morag at
the gate of the yard looking after Gillespie, who had met
her and, saying it was gey and snell, was passing on
when Morag asked him if she would see him that night.
Gillespie had reluctantly promised. Lonend looked
after the retreating figure, tall, sturdy and broad.
"Ay, Morag! a God-fearin', rabbit-stealin' man.
He's gettin' his name up." And Lonend passed on to his
hired machine.
With Mrs. Galbraith Gillespie used as little ceremony
as a dog uses. He told her of the new agreement made
with the Laird, and that come Whitsun the farm would
change hands. She offered her furniture and plenishing
in lieu of the arrears of rent. Gillespie took her squarely
between the eyes. The furniture was not hers, but his.
"Won't you give me time? I'll work hard. Every
penny will go to your account." She was ashamed to
have to beg at his hands.
"No, Mrs. Galbraith, I'll no' chance it. Its no' every
man that can sweem when it comes to a broken brig."
Her large red face took on a deeper flush.
"You know it has been a very wet harvest, Mr.
Strang," she pleaded.
"That's the hand o' Goäd, no' mine," he answered
softly.
She smiled grimly at him. "So I am a pauper, and
must leave the farm — through the hand of God?"
"There's nae use timmin' yer ain mooch to fill ither
folk's," he answered.
Gillespie felt thoroughly at his ease. He had talked
the farm into his hands; yet wanted a servant. Mrs.
Galbraith's next question gave him his chance.
"Is that all you have to say, Mr. Strang?"
"Weel, Mrs. Galbraith, ye dinna expec' me to pey
Galbraith's lawin' at Brodie's. That poor fugleman" —
this was a common word of contempt on Gillespie's
tongue — "ye see the wy he's left you wi' his ongoin's."
She watched the tip of his tongue jerk backwards and
forwards, gleaming inside his mouth. It reminded her
of a snake's head swaying above its body prepared to
strike. Maliciously he evoked the misdeeds of Galbraith's
spent years out of an oblivion where most people would
have left them buried. He was practised in attaching
blame in other quarters — with a show of justice. "A
poor fugleman," he continued, and, putting on a pitying
face, added, but ye're among freens, Marget. Nobody's
axin' ye to leave the ferm. Ye're welcome to bide."
Mrs. Galbraith cut him off abruptly. "The farm is
mine till the term."
"Maybe, Marget, maybe; but, ye see, ye're awin' me
fower hunner an' saxty pun'. I'm no' pressin' ye. Bide
on the ferm. It'll no' be said that Gillespie Strang
turned ye to the door."
Pride, shame, mortification struggled on her face.
"I remain as your servant."
"No! no! Marget: ye'll just bide an' dae your bit
turns, an' tak' the bite an' sup that's goin'. I've gotten
another man for Jock's place. Dinna tak' things to he'rt.
Brocken ships whiles come to land."
The shadow from the woman's tortured soul vanished
off her face. Her home was still to be hers. She pressed
her hand over her left breast, where a great fear had been
gnawing.
"I ken ye'll keep things snog an' be carefu' o' the gear."
Mrs. Galbraith bowed her head in silence; and silently
accepted the successor of Jock o' the Patch, whom
Gillespie had feed at the Bannerie market — a lean-faced
man with a withered red beard; a needle-looking wretch,
hooked in the nose and hollow in the eye, that brazened
one out; a penurious, hungry watch-dog, the descendant
of a race of cattle-lifters and plunderers. His
small, predatory eyes roved the farm-steading like a
hawk's.
There are times when the most self-opinionated are
influenced by an outside judgment. This was the case
with Mrs. Galbraith, to whom Mary Bunch paid a consolatory
flying visit that same evening. Expertly she
platitudinised after her kind, having first of all made a
sally in the direction of the bottle. "I'm that sair
harashed wi' a pain in my heid. My sight's failin' me
terrible, Marget. It's worse since I fell doon the stairs
an' got a crack on the broo."
With a sympathetic glass in her hand she comforted.
"Ye're no' tae tak' on, Marget. We must submit tae
His wull. Time'll bring its ain balm." She tested the
strength of the liquid and polished her nose with the back
of her hand. She was finding Mrs. Galbraith preoccupied
and irresponsive. Sorrow will alone cure sorrow, and so
she said, "I was maist he'rtbroken when Jonsac" — this
was her first husband — "when poor Jonsac was ca'ed
awa'. He strained himsel' over a rope at the fushin' an'
took the dropsy. It's me had the trial wi' him. We
thocht he'd never win awa'. He stood stickin' five times
tae let oot the watter, an' him fair sclimmin' the wa's wi'
pain. Deary me! thon was a sicht. The last time he
lifted up his shirt himsel' tae gie Dr. Maclean a chance.
Ach, doctor,' sez he, 'I think the hale Loch o' watter's
inside me.' His side was fair hacked, poor Jonsac. An'
noo Erchie's weirin' his seal-skin wescut." By this Mary
Bunch hinted that there are as good husbands in the sea
as ever came out of it.
"I am not concerned about the loss of my husband:
it is the loss of the farm which is troubling me. It belongs
to Mr. Gillespie Strang."
Gillespie, for reasons of his own, wanted to keep the
matter quiet. Mrs. Galbraith calmly announced the fact,
as she would have announced anything, from the shame of
her own house to the visit of an angel.
Mary Bunch cast a searing light upon Gillespie's
character. She spoke shrilly, decisively:
"The nyaf! I met him on the brae, an' wondered
where he was stravaigin'. He'd a lip on, the soor deevil,
ye could dance the Hielan' fling on. Dinna ax peety o'
him; there's nane in the marrow o' his briest banes."
The opinion of the Pump is at times not without its value.
"I don't want pity; I want justice."
Mary Bunch assumed a face of scorn. "Justice frae
a wulk-picker. A man wi' the pack aye on his back
doesna ken the name o' justice. Ay sook, sookin' awa'
lik' a leech. That's Gillespie."
Morag watched for her lover in a twilight snow. Before
Gillespie reached home the snow had stilled the land, and
the hills stood white down to a black harbour.
"The snow has gruppit a' thing," Gillespie said to
his mother, as he shook himself at the back door of the
"Ghost." This was an excuse for absenting himself from
Lonend.
Morag looked across the trackless fields in vain for her
lover, who had failed at the tryst.
Mrs. Galbraith was of the old-fashioned school, who
keep by them the dead-clothes. That night she solemnly
dressed herself in the sacred garments, her raven hair
standing out against the white linen. "My life is dead,"
she moaned, as she lay down on the bed in which her
husband had died. The angel of blight had shaken his
despair upon her from his sombre wings. The angel of
vengeance was yet to pass by her lintel.
CHAPTER XIII
THE people of Brieston were accustomed to send their
children with jugs to one or two people in the town who
kept cows, and buy milk at their doors. Gillespie ordered
a brand-new milk-cart, grooved for three six-gallon
barrels, and brought the milk to the doors of Brieston
evening and morning, summoning the household by bell.
Sandy the Fox — he soon won his name — drove the cart.
Gillespie accurately measured the milk into the barrel
that the Fox might not cheat. Lonend was in a rage;
he had not been consulted. He was not a partner yet,
and had to keep his mouth shut; but it gave him a foretaste
of the man. Lonend became moody and suspicious,
and would have kept his daughter from Gillespie had he
not seen her grow big with child.
Mrs. Galbraith had settled down to the new conditions
of life, and was disposed to forget her suspicions of
Gillespie, chiefly through the friendship of his parents,
for Mrs. Strang yet paid an infrequent visit to Muirhead,
and would have come oftener, but the long brae tried her
breathing. Mrs. Galbraith, indeed, was beginning to take
her tenure as secure when, without warning, Gillespie
demanded a settlement. He laid before her certain slips
of paper, all signed by her husband, promising to pay divers
sums, amounting in all to £458. Interest, he pointed out,
was due at the rate of five per cent. In this he lied, for
he had yearly extorted the interest from Galbraith. The
security was the furniture, plenishing, and gear of the
farm. Mrs. Galbraith, numb with bewilderment, stared at
Gillespie and, when she found her voice, said, "I thought
it was arranged that I should stay on at the farm."
No one would be more pleased than himself, but he
was to be married to Morag Logan at the term. It was
in reason that Mrs. Galbraith must leave. The furniture
was old, and a good deal decayed; Galbraith had not kept
his farm implements up to date. It would be best to have
the whole movables valued. Gillespie fancied they would
not cover his debt, but he would be lenient, and write off
the debt against the movables. She must, however, move
at the term. There was a hint of menace in his voice.
He struck his trouser-leg with a switch to drive home his
sour news.
Mrs. Galbraith went to Lonend, and found him wrathfully
impotent.
"There's naething to be done, Marget, but go hame and
greet."
She held up her shapely dark head. "I'll want to see
Mr. Strang's tears first," she answered.
"The damn wolf canna greet," said Lonend, turning
aside in sullen mood, a miserable man who was beginning
to drink the brew of his sin. He spoke frankly, telling
her of his daughter's condition, and of the agreement
which he had signed, wishing to God he had never put pen
to paper. He advised Mrs. Galbraith to see the doctor
to whom her husband had spoken of Gillespie.
"I was deceived in him, he is so big and soft-looking."
Thus Mrs. Galbraith thought as she descended the brae
to Dr. Maclean's house. He was at the bowling-green,
Kyle, the chemist, informed her, and sent a boy for him.
Maclean, a tall, broad, wiry man, was the light of the
town; a skilled practitioner, with a wide parish under his
hand. He grudged no service, and brooded on his cases
as he walked about the parish or tried to beat Brodie on
the bowling-green. He was a handsome man, whom
many women loved openly or in secret; a friend of the
landed gentry; a greater friend of the poor, to whom he
rarely sent an account. It was said that he was somewhat
rough with his patients, but Kyle asserted that he had
seen the doctor "greetin' like a waen" for some young
man or woman whose case was hopeless, and his driver
said that on weary journeys to the country, the doctor
would ask strange questions after long intervals of meditation,
as "What is God? Where did God come from?
What is the use of praying into space? If you
answer me properly give you a drink at Mainsfoot
Inn." Here Pat would wink to his audience and say,
"Well, doctor, I can tell you wan thing; there's some
use o' me prayin' into space."
"How's that?"
"I am praying for that drink."
And the doctor's big cheery laugh would roll across the
horse's head. But he was too extravagant, the minister's
sister always said, with a sigh.
"If he has got money in his pocket for the day it's all
he cares. Its a shame that his house is allowed to go to
wreck and ruin with servants. He needs a wife."
All the Pump knew that the minister's sister would
walk from the Manse to the doctor's house barefoot for
his smile. "Hullo, Marget," he cried cheerily, coming
into the surgery; then, seeing her face, added:
"Come away upstairs and pour out my tea; I'll give
you some ham."
"Thank you, doctor, not this evening," and lifting a
brave, smiling face she told him her tale. She knew that
here she would get the truth from one who was without
stain of cloth. He spoke no words of pity, but told her
abruptly that Galbraith and Gillespie had had a scene in
the Laigh Park. Gillespie taunted her husband, and
threatened to roup him out of house and home. The
doctor was of opinion that this had induced Galbraith's
end. Maclean told also of the warning of Jock o' the
Patch.
"You're in the hands of a Jew, Marget," he ended.
"A murderer and a thief," she cried.
"I'd give five hundred down to bring Calum's death
home to him; but it's impossible," the doctor said sadly.
The woman's face underwent a rapid change. Light
blazed in her dark eyes. "This morning I thought he
only stole my home" — even that thought seemed to
suffocate her — "my home; the morning and the birds in
the trees; oh! I used to thank God for the light of another
day when I heard them singing. And the cattle rowting
on the moor. He has stolen from me summer and winter,
spring and the harvest-time. What will they be to me
now in the Back Street? I'll never know the spring
coming there, or see the wind in the corn or the lea rig
white with frost. He's robbed me — the home …" — her
voice choked — "my man! he's killed my man — !"
In her eyes he slew and then harried the slain. She leapt
to her feet. "I'll never be content till the snow is his
winding-sheet; till I see him without house or home or
coffin."
"Let him alone, Marget," said Maclean in a hard voice.
"He'll maybe find out that a man can buy gold too dear."
She laughed fiercely.
"Thanks, thanks, Mr. Gillespie Strang; I thought my
life was empty, but it is not so now." …
"Kyle," said the doctor, as Mrs. Galbraith passed
through the shop, "make up this medicine for Marget"
— the doctor looked up at her from writing the prescription
— "she's a bit run down."
Ah! the common people could not analyse their affection
for Dr. Maclean, because they could not analyse tact. He
once said to Brodie, when that individual questioned him
on an obscure case which puzzled gossip, "Ah! Brodie, a
doctor is a man who will have many secrets buried with
him." After that Brodie, one of the few who was
privileged to sit with the doctor o' nights in his smoking--
room, durst ask him no more questions.
CHAPTER XIV
THAT night Mrs. Galbraith walked in the low field at
the sea beneath the pine-wood, brooding. She was a
woman who, by nature, found in every one something to
appreciate; some gift, aptitude, or virtue. Gillespie had
trailed humanity in the mire. Living so much on
Thomas à Kempis, she could not conceive that a predatory
beast inhabited a human frame. Her face was
swollen, her thick, glossy hair blown awry in the high
sea-wind. She walked in a garment of misery, as she
adjusted life to a new balance, seeing more steadfastly
its heaven and its hell, and how the adversity of one is the
prosperity of another.
She turned and gazed at the farmhouse. It was cheap,
jerry-built, and the deafening poor. It sounded like
thunder in the kitchen below when one walked overhead.
The windows rattled in the wind. Galbraith had fashioned
wedges of wood to jam them tight. The wedges
were always kept ready on the sills against a high wind.
The rain leaked in on stormy nights. She understood
now why her husband was averse to asking the Laird for
repairs.
But for all that it was ramshackle, the roots of her life
had gone deep there. She had never lived under any
other roof for twenty-six years. The ancient cry of all
races that are not Bedouin was born in the travail of her
breast. "Home, Sweet Home." Soon she would sleep
no more beneath that roof, or find her place familiar with
the morning light. She recalled her home-coming with
her husband. He was then a tall, supple, young man,
thin-faced, with laughing grey eyes; alert, handsome.
"This is your home now, wife," he said.
She felt he was offering her his life, and had been inexpressibly
touched; and now that fount of tenderness,
perennial all these many years, was dried up. She was
puzzled at the triumph of evil, at the suffering of the
righteous.
"The sun touches your window in the morning." He
had remembered her love of the dawn. Now this pirate,
with his carrion eyes and expressionless face, had told her
she must go. He had been deadly suave about it. She
remembered a blackbird which, a fortnight ago, she had
found stiff with frost. She shivered, as if the blight of
frost had touched herself. She recalled Gillespie's sour
smile, the leprosy of his deprecating eyes, his wolfish face,
and clenched her hand till the nails sunk in her flesh. She
looked at the house seated on the brae-head, grey, cold,
darkling. It flashed upon her that it, too, was mourning.
The desolate house and she were merged in a common
grief. She had a vision of Galbraith, who would come
there no more, stooping at the door, bent as tall men are,
gaunt, putting down his feet slowly one after the other,
as if they, too, were heavy with care and weariness,
coming from the kitchen window to meet her.
"Ye bring the sea up wi' ye on your face," he used to
say, on her return from her evening walk. He was filling
his pipe, thrusting in the tobacco from his palm with his
forefinger. It was this last touch, domestic and of a
man, that filled her breast with the wild longing which
surges within us for that which, precious and now lost,
leaves behind a dreary emptiness. She turned away a
face of inexpressible woe from beholding the house, the
tears smarting-in her eyes.
"Oh, dear God, I think my heart will break." The
words came in dry sobs which shook her frame. She
brushed her hand across her eyes, sank upon her knees,
fronting the sea, and lifted her face to where a single star,
high in the zenith, blinked down at her.
"Give me strength, Almighty God, to endure," and
covering her face with her hands, she invoked vengeance.
"I want vengeance," and, horror-stricken at the thought
of plucking this prerogative from the Eternal, she arose
and went towards the house to consult the oracle in which
she had perfect faith. She passed into the kitchen and
locked the door. If Gillespie were to come he would have
to remain without; but Gillespie was at Lonend, arranging
the details of his entry at the term. He did not come that
night, because it is not given to mortals to behold the slow
unveiling of the white throne of justice.
In times of crisis she was wont to consult the Bible,
taking oracularly the first verse which her eye lit upon.
One child had been born to her, which fell ill at the age
of five months. She sought the Bible and read, "The
child also that is born unto thee shall surely die." She
watched Maclean's efforts almost with pity; and when
her babe died upon her knee at eventide, she looked down
at the waxen face in stony grief and acquiescence.
Her ancestors had believed in elves and fairies, and the
little folk dancing in the glades in the moonlight. Her
intellect was powerful; but the superstition that is the
second oldest stratum of human nature was awakened,
and the dominance of her intellect and her will-power were
concentrated on the rite. Her mouth was a thin line of
determination, and her eyes had a profound contemplative
look. She closed them as if peering into the future, and
opened the great Bible. A leaf fluttered out of her
fingers and sagged over with a thin crinkling sound.
She opened her eyes slowly, and betrayed no emotion or
surprise, though the letters ran in forms of fire as she
chanted aloud:
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever
a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Thrice she read
the words, graving them on the granite of her resolution.
She had been nurtured in a school of grim theology, and
the mantle of prophesy fell easily upon her. She saw the
sword of vengeance bared in her hand. A sinister aspect
of life seized her mind as the idea of revenge fast settled
there. Something of the recording angel, napoleonic in
its proportions, entered her soul. She imagined herself
in that moment to be standing at the bar of the Last
Judgment, accusing Gillespie before the great White
Throne. The justice of heaven could not exact retribution
without her instrumentality. She was the vicar of the
wrath of God, and the blood of her husband would cry
up from the earth night and day till she had extorted the
uttermost farthing in the price of her revenge. She would
dog the man; track him like a sleuth-hound. Life
became large and terrible with purpose. Divine punishment
would fall on her own head if she proved a traitor,
and the dead would be washed from his grave and condemn
her if she failed to keep her grim tryst with Gillespie.
She sat down and bent the resources of her intellect to the
task. Hour after hour passed as she sat in the dark beside
the open Bible, fixed like a rock. The wind cried round
the gable-end, but she heard nothing, for she had entered
into the grave beside her husband, and came forth carrying
his secret torture, with the grey look of the dead upon her
face. Plan after plan arose like waves out of a yeasty
gloom, only to fall back on the granite cliffs of her resolve;
and each time she was baulked her large dark eyes swept
across the pale page where a line of fire was burning.
"God is not mocked "—the words rang in her ears like
thunder — "for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he
also reap." The irony of Gillespie's position struck her,
and she smiled grimly.
The sudden fluting of an early bird in the trees aroused
her, and she thought how the vale of crying birds, where
the wild pigeons haunt the fir-wood with unfatigued wing,
would be hers no more. The song died away, as if the
bewildered bird were questing for the tardy dawn. It
rippled in song once more; then the wind washed over
the tree-tops, soughing restlessly, and there was silence.
She arose, shivering with the cold, and extinguished the
lamp, and saw the fresh trees swaying in the wind as if
they, too, with the baffled bird and herself, were seeking,
seeking eternally.
"We've drifted far before the wind, our house; we've
a heavy leeway to make up," she muttered, looking at the
frail dawn. And the pilot of that broken ship went back
to the Big Chart lying open on the table. Bending down,
she kissed the book, and then went heavily upstairs to her
room.
She did not dress herself in the dead-clothes.
CHAPTER XV
TOWARDS noon Mrs. Galbraith rose, and, as she dressed,
pondered on her husband, whom lately she had ceased
to love. He had become coarse, rude, blasphemous in
drink; ungainly about the farm, ill-dressed, and dirty;
and even more gawky on market-days and on Sundays,
when he dressed in broadcloth — a grey, stooping, withered
man, knock-kneed, loose-jointed. He slavered at the
mouth when he was in a rage, and his temper was short
and hot. But she had respected him. He had wooed
her with hot ardour, riding through the night on a coal--
black mare to see her. He had given her a good home,
had been faithful to her, was proud of her accomplishments,
of which he had boasted on market-days at the
Inn. Though she had complained of the house as naked--
looking, severe, with rattling windows and cold, draughty
passages that had killed her only child, yet now its precious
associations were poignantly remembered — the song and
the dance when she played at Yuletide in the parlour, and
the kitchen was loud with the thunder of dancing feet;
birth, death, and friendship; these things had hallowed its
walls and made sacred its chambers. "Surely I have
eaten the bread of affliction," she cried as she descended
the narrow stair to the kitchen.
Tick-tack, tick-tack, the pendulum of the kitchen wag--
at-the-wa' answered. The big brass hand jerked spasmodically
on the dial, like a dead limb that has been
galvanised. These sounds in the still kitchen became
sombre, measuring time with the aloofness and impartiality
of a god. Tick-tack, every moment nearer the
time of her departure from the farm cried aloud. In the
sound she heard a silvery bell, whose echo was melting
away into a great vastness where, when it died, the hour
of her exodus would strike. She felt it was impossible
for her to abide that moment. The minute-hand jerked
again with a sudden spurt of malice. Now it seemed to
sweep devouringly over a greater arc of the dial's face.
Was she to go on daily watching it, her heart's blood drip,
dripping away from her? For a quarter of a century she
had regulated her comings and goings by that clock, and
had never noticed the terror of the hand before. Jerk!
jerk! it reminded her of a raven she had once seen.
plunging his hot beak in the carcase of a sheep and tossing
it up with bloody fragment in the air. Jerk! jerk! the,
beak of time was picking at her life. She would go mad
if she waited through the days and watched. She formed
a sudden resolution. She would not wait in her condemned
cell till the twelfth hour and the executioner.
She opened the clock door and stopped the pendulum.
"I am finished here," she said, and went out to take
farewell of the fields and the woods.
The grass was green as emerald. The pale light of
primroses haunted the burn. A wild cherry-tree there
was white as snow. The clay of the deeply-rutted cart--
road shone like gold. Hillock and mound swelled away
like waves of the sea, full of inlets, nooks, and glades right
up to the Planting. She had watched that wood in all
seasons. Sometimes it had appeared to her in leafless
winter like an army with spears watching upon the hill
over against the sea; when stiff with frost it was a giant
foreland, upon whose forehead had frozen the foam of
the ocean. In summer Pan drove stallions through it,
shaking multitudinous bells. In autumn it was an army
bivouacked in blood. To-day it was beaten, slain,
broken; the light of the babe eyes of spring had been
quenched upon its face. She interpreted the wood with
her own personality. She was defeated, beaten. She
passed through the little wooden gate at the end of the
cart-track above the burn, and sat down on the moss in
the lee of the wood, pine-sheltered from the cold sea-wind.
From where she sat she saw the low, rambling farmhouse,
its whitewashed walls stained with the rains. A cart was
uptilted at the byre-end. The shafts raised impotent arms
to the sky. There was a deep silence about the place.
The fields, the hills, the wood, the farm-steading were
robbed of life; buried with her husband. A heavy sense
of loss besieged her. It begat pain. She tried to repress
the welling tears. She was amazed when she heard herself
sobbing. A tramp passed along the high road, carrying
a bundle in a red handkerchief. She bent her head
as he went by. Her throat was hot and burning. Presently
she raised it again toweringly, shaking the tear-drops
from her eyelids; but at the first glance at the farm an
incontinent sobbing broke forth, her breast heaving convulsively.
Life, she knew, had missed its completion;
without child, without husband, without home. "What
have I done? what have I done? I have been a good
woman" — the anguished thought kept ranging her mind.
The hopes she had thought to realise were broken; failure,
disappointment, disillusion were her portion; the locust
had eaten the grey years. Last night she had been
possessed with lust of vengeance. Now she recognised
that malice dies, grief dies; shame, remorse, scorn die;
nothing remains but profound, desolating sadness. She
became afraid of this weary weight of loss and loneliness —
afraid that it would unnerve her hand and leave Gillespie
untouched. The anguish became so intolerable that she
struggled to her feet, overwhelmed with a feeling of
pusillanimity and cowardice; then sank down again, with
her face turned from watching the farm. It was the
desolation there which turned her blood to water. Her
jewel was in the mire; she was dispossessed of something
that was eternal; she saw her life in chains, hanging in
the wind of fate; the delicate porcelain of life was in
fragments beneath the ruthless heels of a thief and
murderer. She writhed. Her body was passing in the
midst of fire. She leapt up from her vigil with blood in
the palms of her hand. The atrophy of anguish had
passed away. She had crossed the border-line of pain,
and drew out of the battle with a stone where her heart
had been, and her sunken eyes shining with the fires of
revenge which ate into her soul.
At the whin bush on the cart-road, where Gillespie and
Lonend's daughter had become betrothed, she swiftly
turned aside, and went down to the pool in the burn.
Stooping, she washed her hands in the dark water. The
act was symbolic. She was a priestess purifying herself
to lift the knife upon the altar. When she reached the
farmhouse she closed and locked the door. The next hour
she spent rummaging through the house. She packed
her clothes and treasures — a few books, two photographs,
a gold locket with the wisp of a child's hair within. She
carried the bags to the barn, deposited them there, locked
the door, and put the key in her pocket. She returned
to the kitchen, sat down at the table, marked the verse
in the Bible heavily with ink, then, with steady hand,
wrote for a minute on a large sheet of paper. She took a
hammer and a box of tacks from a shelf in the scullery,
and tacked the paper on to the front door. She returned
to the kitchen and, with the hammer-head, stopped the
pendulum of the grandfather's clock. There was another
clock in the parlour. This she also stopped. A smile of
irony played on her face as she moved about the house.
Her last act was to extinguish the kitchen fire with a pailful
of water. She backed away from the cloud of dust
and steam. "Dust to dust," she muttered, and flung the
pail in a corner. It trailed round slowly till it rested on
the handle. The hissing in the fireplace died away, and
a profound silence fell on the mangled kitchen. She
flung the door wide open; walked down the passage,
pulled the front door open, and passed out into the
dancing spring sunshine. The first act of revenge
was committed. There were still three weeks to run
till the term-day. She took her portmanteau from the
barn, leaving the door agape, carried it down the cart--
road, and hid it among the whin bushes above the burn.
She never returned to the farmhouse.
On the morning of the next day old Mr. Strang called
at the house of Muirhead Farm with some salt herring,
which his wife had sent to Mrs. Galbraith. Having read
the placard on the door, he crossed the brae and told
Lonend that his neighbour's house was deserted, and the
doors were banging about in the wind. The house, he
said, was uncanny. He left the salt herring with Morag,
went home, and kept silent before his wife. Lonend had
asked him to send up Gillespie at once. Together they
crossed over the brae, and through the edge of the Laig
Park at the Planting, and came up the cart-road. Lonend
was silent, chewing a straw. Against his better judgment
he felt himself being dragged into a scandal. A dull rage
against Gillespie was smouldering in his mind. The
matter of the milk-cart still rankled; and now this.
"There's something no' richt aboot the hoose," he
burst out savagely, his wiry black moustache bristling, as
his eye rested around its smokeless chimneys. "It's like
a place o' the deid."
"It was aye a wee thing deid an' alive," answered
Gillespie blithely.
"By Goäd," snarled Lonend, "ye've gien't the feenishin'
touch."
"Hoots, man! I winna fly intae a pawshun because a
lum's no' reekin'."
"I'd raither see't on fire," snapped Lonend, biting on
the straw. The feeling of desolation in a forsaken homestead
touched Lonend.
"There's somethin' gars my banes grue about thon" —
he nodded towards the house — "it only wants the corbies
sittin' on the riggin'."
"Nonsense," said Gillespie, breathing a little rapidly;
"the hoose is a' richt. I wush everything was as weel."
Lonend strode through the wooden gate, his wiry, alert
form moving as on springs.
"Look at the windas," he muttered.
"What's wrong wi' the windas; needin' cleanin'?"
"They're deid," replied Lonend sharply, "deid an'
blin' lik' the eyes o' a corp."
They entered the farmyard. The silence was oppressive.

"No' even a cock-craw" — Lonend spluttered a harsh
laugh — "man! but ye hae the gran' toom biggin',
Gillespie."
"The cocks 'ill be reingin' for guid coärn seed. Ye'll
hear them cryin' brawly when their crap's filled."
"Ay! ay! the wy they cried to Peter the Apostle,"
and Lonend turned sharply away.
They crossed the steading. The stable and byre were
empty; the barn door wide open.
"I'm dootin' I'll maybe hae to speak to Sanny," said
Gillespie. His voice trembled a little.
"I'm dootin' ay!" mocked Lonend.
They went round the corner of the house in Indian file,
Lonend leading, and reached the front door. It was
swinging idly in the breeze. They came to a halt in their
tracks, staring. Suddenly Lonend closed his right hand.
He had searched for the damning placard of which
Gillespie's father had told him, and recalled the old man's
words:
"There's a wee bit writin' yonder on the wall. I
kenna wha' the Belshazzar is."
With the stump of his thumb projecting from his fist,
Lonend pointed to the paper on the door.
"The shirra's notiss," he said.
They stepped up to the door, shoulder to shoulder, and
together, in silence, they read the large, clear lettering:
THIS HOUSE IS DEAD.
IT HAS BEEN MURDERED.
IT IS BURIED IN THE GRAVE OF A WOMAN'S
HEART.
"BE NOT DECEIVED; GOD IS NOT MOCKED: FOR WHATSOEVER
A MAN SOWETH, THAT SHALL HE ALSO REAP."
The straw dropped from Lonend's open mouth.
"It's Goäd's shirra," he said in a low voice.
Gillespie turned pale about the lips; then the blood
rushed to his face.
"A bonny lik' joke," he said; "Marget's put her
learnin' to grand use."
He tore the placard from the door, crumpled it up in
his hand, and threw it on the path. He entered the
passage, and Lonend, swiftly stooping, picked up the ball
of paper and thrust it in his pocket.
He heard Gillespie moving about on the stone-flagged
kitchen floor as he stood without in the sunshine, wiping
the sweat from his forehead with a red handkerchief.
"Come awa' in here," he heard Gillespie shout.
Lonend made no answer, but cast a look of hatred
towards the direction of the voice. Presently Gillespie
appeared, his face flushed an angry red.
"Come awa' ben," he cried; "ye never saw such
damage an' destruction since ye were craidled."
"No," answered Lonend, stepping back and curling
his lip, "I'll no' cross the door."
Gillespie stamped on the threshold.
"I'll hae the law o' that wumman."
"Wi' the Spider? A bonny feegur he'd mak' in the
Coort o' Session." Lonend sneered openly.
"The kitchen's a' a laggery o' wreck wi' rain an' wun'.
The grandfaither's clock's lyin' in smithereens on the flure,
an' the back door's open to the tide."
Lonend flamed up.
"What richt hae ye," he cried, "to be reingin' through
another wumman's hoose?"
Gillespie stared at Lonend with a stupefied look.
"Reingin'! wha's a better richt to reinge?"
"Ye've nae richt to set fut ower that door till the
term." Lonend shut and opened his fists, his face black
with rage.
"An' let a' thing gang tapsalteerie to the backside o'
the wun' an' rain. A bonny lik' thing." It was Gillespie's
turn to sneer. "A bonny lik' pickin' aff a cleaned--
bone."
"Pickin'! by Goäd; there's nane for Hector Logan o'
the Lonen'. I aye cam' by my money dacent, an' no'
plunderin' the weeda an' puttin' her oot o' hoose an'
hame." Gillespie backed into the passage, for Lonend's
eyes were flashing fire.
"See that?" he cried, and, whipping his hand into his
jacket pocket, held aloft the paper. "It'll come on ye yet,
for a' your laawers." He struck the paper sharply with
his hand. "You an' me 'ill hae to pairt here, Gillespie.
This house is deid, deid an' murdered'" — he struck the
wall twice with the flat of his hand — "Ye can rob the corp
gif ye hae the wull; but it'll no' be Hector Logan that
'ill face up to Goäd's shirra wi' the likes o' you. I'm
done wi' ye." He crammed the placard in his pocket.
"There's another wee bit paper o' McAskill's ye'll hae
to dae wi'," said Gillespie, with a grave face.
"To hell wi' ye an' the laawer!" cried Lonend, who
wheeled and strode away, leaving Gillespie standing
alone on the threshold of the deserted farmhouse.
CHAPTER XVI
WE follow Mrs. Galbraith to her new home in the Back
Street. No asylum is congenial, and hers was far from
being a place in which to ponder upon the beauties of the
Imitation, and study Beethoven and the Jacobite songs
upon the piano. There were flights; but of vastly different
kind, irritating to one accustomed to the placidity of
Muirhead Farm. It is true that they were of the common
stuff of Back Street comedy; but the comedy was a horror
to her; its levity and vulgarity she assessed as an additional
debt to the black score which Gillespie owed her.
He had driven her from home; he had pitchforked her
into a welter of wrangling voices, sordid contumely,
defiant recrimination, and the banal horse-play of life.
Had she been a visitor she would have been tolerant,
amused; as a resident, forced to submit to these jests of
Fate, whose waves rolled upon her, fast threatening to make
her a denizen of the Back Street, her resentment against
the initial author of her bitterness was increased two-fold.
These vulgar bickerings were vinegar to her, and threatened
to draw her into the mesh of Back Street life. She
saw that with repetition she would become accustomed to
these sallies, and gradually would be woven into the warp
and woof of such a sordid existence. Once a denizen her
purpose would be fatally weakened, for such people lived
only for the day. She must have a house of her own,
divorced from contact with all extraneous interests.
Thus it came about that Mrs. Galbraith moved into a
room beneath the thatch vacated by Janet Morgan, whose
husband, the plumber, had died. The room was situate
near the end of the Back Street, and cost six pound a year
in rent. Janet Morgan, a pawn in the game, moved to
the Quay, and thence, having sold her husband's tools
and remnants of tin and lead, opened a little toy shop.
CHAPTER XVII
GILLESPIE STRANG'S wife had a rage for jewels, and in
the first days of their married life at Muirhead Farm
loaded herself with trinkets, many of them cumbersome
and old-fashioned, and, dressed in the height of fashion,
kept the parlour, where, big with child as she was, she
entertained her friends and visitors from the town and
neighbouring farms. Fond of gossip, and full of cheap
pride and vanity, she queened it, conceiving she had made
a happy match. Gillespie gave her a sour, frowning look
for a week. In the next she was rudely made acquainted
with his harsh remedies, and trailed about the house
white-faced and horrified. Her trinkets were locked away.
When she asked for them he said that such baubles had
no room in a farmhouse. From the hour in which she
learned he had seized her jewels and personal ornaments
she hated him. She considered herself disgraced by him.
She hoped God would punish him for preying upon her.
As for Gillespie, he told her to find more profitable occupation
in the byre. With her eyes fixed upon her person,
she said she was unfit for such work. Gillespie, ignorant
of the danger, spoke with contempt; but, realising it at
length, thought it prudent to hire a female servant till the
days of his wife were accomplished. He restricted her to
the absolute necessaries of life, so that, with such a frugal
economy, she was ashamed to call in her friends. He
denied the cravings common to women in her state,
alleging them as artifice to compass her social ends. She
became isolated, starved in soul; and, brooding upon her
indigence, went to Lonend, asking, with tears, to be taken
home. Hitherto Lonend had wavered and was irresolute
with Gillespie, feeling his own guilt in the matter of Muirhead
Farm; but now his mind was pierced to the quick.
He saw his daughter's shame and degradation exposed to
the common eye. Privately he gave her money and went,
whip in hand, to Gillespie, and taunted him with cruelty.
Gillespie would not be provoked to a quarrel. He turned
up to Lonend a jolly, rubicund face wet with sweat from
smearing the sheep with a mixture of tar and fat, and
prevaricated, trumping up the colourable pretext that the
time was not convenient for luxury. He had a heavy
leeway to make up in his share of the price of the farm.
His policy was to screen his avarice behind an ebbed
bank-account. Lonend, aware of his malignant heart,
itched to lift the whip he held upon him, but saw that that
would only abandon his daughter to perhaps greater
horrors. He looked, however, he said in an aggravated
tone, to more lavish treatment of his daughter. Gillespie
answered that by and by he would make a lady of her,
when he had got rid of his more pressing burdens; and,
with a smiling face, invited Lonend into the house to
consider the advisability of having some repairs done to
the kitchen windows. The smile maddened Lonend.
He felt himself a dupe and baffled, and that Gillespie had
eluded him by an eel-like flexibility. From sullen silence
he flashed to an outburst of rage, and striking his leg with
his whip, cried:
"You big braxy beast, ye'll sweep your doorstep clean
before I'll cross it again."
This was the beginning of open rupture, and Lonend
retired, full of resentment.
Two months afterward a son was born. Gillespie's
mother in the "Ghost" pleaded for it, on the plea that
she was lonely. It was in reality the old fear which urged
the request. Gillespie was nothing loth. He disliked the
child, for he fancied he had been lured into begetting it;
while to have it reared in the "Ghost" would save expense.
Morag wept her eyes out, but Gillespie, inflexible, ferried
the child across the harbour. At this juncture Lonend
brought down the gun from the steel-racks over the fireplace,
cleaned and oiled it; but Morag dissuaded him
from violence, saying that she had the promise from
Gillespie of another child, that would be her own. She
told this in a state of mind bordering on distraction. It
was a lie; and was her dream of what she might be able
to coax from her husband. Within the year she achieved
her purpose. On a morning that Gillespie, yawning and
stretching himself, was about to rise, his wife said:
"Are you goin' to get up?"
Gillespie yawned again and looked abroad at his clothes.
"It's time," answered Gillespie; "Sanny 'ill be
stirrin'." He would allow no servant to be beforehand
with him. His wife sighed.
"Am I no' your wife any longer, Gillespie?"
There was fondness in the tone. She could not understand
that this buirdly man was slipping from her grasp.
Her questing hands were held out eagerly for the gifts of
youth and passion. She was a creature made for love,
with a heart within her breast as warm and tender as a
Madonna's. As long, previous to her marriage, as the gifts
of love were withheld or paid out niggardly, but with the
promise always to be fulfilled, her face was beautiful, like
a dark flower, with the light of dreams; and as long as
her heart kindled thus in her eyes, her radiant face could
attract even Gillespie. He had always found her beautiful
at Lonend. But once the debt of matrimony was paid
coldly enough, and the treasury, she then discovered,
empty, the light perished in her eyes, and, with the
vanishing of the look of youth, the last vestige of power
over her husband was gone for ever. Greed grew in his
soul with swift, cancerous growth. He emptied his heart
to make room for his one dominant passion. With
feminine tenacity she clung on to hope: " Am I not your
wife? " Her eyes searched his louring face with timidity.
" Bonny wife wi' your fal-de-lals." He had restored
her jewels when she had pleaded for them on child-bed —
her mother's rings, gold chain, and cameo brooch.
A trembling seized her body. She shivered as with
cold, and became afraid. Her eyes blinked; a clear drop
oozed out of the corner of the left eye, and trembled on
the lid. She held up her head to prevent it falling. The
sight of tears made him malicious. Her nostrils contracted
and expanded like the fluttering wings of a
wounded bird.
"An' what will I do now?" — she was interrogating
Fate — "I'm not fit to be a widow woman."
"Weeda wumman! wha's gaun to mak' ye a weeda
wumman?"
"I can't do without you, Gillespie," she answered
simply, like a child. There was a large helpless air about
her which put him into a dull rage. Why could she not
get up and go to the byre? She cast herself, her thriftlessness,
her unprofitable fancies upon him, wasting the
morning. The air whistled in his nostrils as he heard her
mournful plaint. What to do, forsooth. Get up and
kirn the milk an' nae main words.
"Don't be angry with me, Gillespie; I can't bear you
to be angry."
The swift. access of anger, so unnatural to him, died away.
He threw the blankets aside and stepped on to the floor.
"No! of coorse, no! I'm just to liesten to yeer
whimsies an' no' open my mooth. P'raps ye'll no' be
pleased till I gie ye the mill alang wi' the meal." The
housekeeping expenses, a thing new to him, were a
constant source of annoyance. He never missed a chance
of pushing home this grievance.
"I don't ask for anything. I only want yourself."
The naïve innocence of this remark appeared to strangle
Gillespie. She was back to her fancies. He could not
range himself alongside this desire, for he was beginning
to regard her now as cumbering his house. She was slow
of her hands, laggard in business, unpunctual, stupid in
house-work. Once already he had told her that her
father's praise of her skill was part of the game to lure
him to Muirhead.
"Ye hae as muckle o' me as ever ye'll hae"; his grim
sourness was unpleasant to see.
"No! no! my husband; surely you're not done with
me like that." She put out her hand timidly, the hunger
of affection and the desire of maternity flaring up in her
eyes and quickening her haggard face. He seemed to be
standing up to the neck in cold water that was rapidly
freezing about him. His one desire was to be rid of her
importunity, and get out to the yard. He pulled up the
window-blind, and the soft light of dawn flooded the room.
He stooped, searching for his socks, and muttered:
"What mair do ye want o' me?"
"Am I so old then?" Her voice was humble, pleading;
sorrow was darkening her eyes.
"What mair? what mair?" he said testily.
She arose in the bed with ardent face.
"Gillespie, dear, am I not your wife? Am I so old?
Oh, don't be so cruel! It's long, long since your arms
were round me. Do you not love me any more?" The
torment of a heart long brooding upon neglect burned in
her appeal. She sat straight up in bed. "I lie wakened
at your side every night hoping ye'll take me in your
arms, an' every night I greet myself to sleep." A single
deep sob burst from her. The clock rang the hour of five.
At the end of the fifth chime a profound silence filled the
room. The dawn had gathered the sob to itself; and
Fate was listening with bated breath. Worlds for them
were in the making. The ancient doom upon the house
was spinning its thread in the silence.
An ironic smile passed over the features of the man.
The only way to get to his more important affairs was to
yield to her. He put on his waistcoat as he walked to the
window.
"A fine lush morn," he said, looking out; then turned.
"What's your wull wi' me, mistress?"
She crept out of bed to his side like an invited dog, her
eyes dewy with hope, and deep with the cherished thought
that had woven the long nights into dreams. A light not
of the dawn glorified her face. She attempted to speak,
and sobbed.
"Dinna waste my time, mistress"; he pressed his
thumb beneath her chin. A wave of colour passed upwards,
surging over her forehead.
"I'm wantin' another baby."
She looked terrified after she had uttered the words.
He did not observe her confusion.
"Dhia!" he muttered, and stared heavily at the
grate, like a man in a dream. A hand was plucking at
his sleeve; a voice calling hollow out of a shadowy world.
"Dhia! hae ye no' a bairn already?"
She began to sob. Her fragile shoulders heaved and
shook with suppressed convulsions.
"Iain's no' my baby — he's — he's — his granny's boy."
Gillespie was amazed, and could find nothing to say.
"Do — ye — no' love me — any more?" The words
were punctuated with sobs. "You haven't — kissed me
— since Iain was born." She had treasured up the long
reckoning of bitter time and neglect.
"Kissed ye; I never thocht o't."
"No — no — ye think of — of everything — but me."
A frown settled on his face.
"Ay! if I dinna think o' a' thing wha's tae; early an'
late to keep the meal in the barrel." His frown deepened.
She lifted a wet face to him.
"Oh! Gillespie, Gillespie, don't be angry; I'm only
askin' for a wee bit o' love. I'm — oh! I'm wantin' a
baby. I've lain late at night" — her eyes sought the
floor — "listenin' for your step. I've watched you sleepin'
and waited for you wakin';" reproach, condemnation
were in her voice. She spoke as a martyr who has kept
long vigil by the vestal flame of love. "But you slept
and wakened, and never a word to me but of milking and
sowing." Her eyes quickly sought his face. "Many's
the night when you were sleepin' I drew your hand over
on my breasts — my breasts burnin' for a wee baby girl."
Her eyes suddenly shone on him. "You'll no' deny me,
my man; a baby girl. I know her hair and her eyes. I
see them every night as I fall asleep. I feel her mouth
on my breasts." Her thin face was transfigured. "It's
all I ask. Surely I'm no' an auld cloot yet."
She stood before him, her hair on her nightdress, her
half-exposed breasts rising and falling in quick pants.
Gillespie was stupefied. Were there human beings in this
world of work and money-making who could have a
passion for aught else? Such madness for a child.
"Dhia!" he said, "ye're like one that's drunk."
"I'm drunk and sick for a baby girl," she wailed;
"will I go on my knees to you?"
Sandy, the ploughman, was whistling to the lush dawn.
The sound sharply aroused Gillespie to the world as from
a dream.
"Hoots!" he cried, swinging his jacket across his
shoulder, and shoving in his arms with a jerk, "is that a'
ye want?"
"It's all my hunger and my thirst," she answered.
"Then I'll speak to Dr. Maclean aboot it." His
guttural laugh was acquiescence.
"Tell me! tell me!" She looked up eagerly.
"It's a bargain, mistress. Sandy's wastin' his time,
whistlin' to the craws." His tone was impatient.
"Give me a kiss before you go." She snatched at his
sleeve like a slave. He made a wry face and laid his
mouth over her temple.
"Ye'll no' bide late the night?" she whispered.
There was silence for a moment. The echo of Sandy's
footsteps died away in the direction of the stable. Fate
bent her ear.
"I'll no' be very thrang the nicht, mistress."
Passionless Fate had heard. Suddenly a cock crowed
loudly.
Before Gillespie left the farm a second son, Eoghan,
was born.
CHAPTER XVIII
GRADUALLY the farm came to be divided between
Lonend and Gillespie by the burn which ran east and west,
a stone's cast from the house. According to agreement
Lonend sold the wool and the lambs, and at Christmas
some score of Highland cattle for English consumption,
to a dealer whom he knew at Bannerie; and Gillespie the
rabbits, hares, game, and trout in Glasgow; and milk
and butter in the village. At the end of the year they
examined their financial position in the office of Mr.
McAskill, who, for the time, was banished to Brodie's.
They shook hands when they met, their palms rasping.
"Ye're lookin' weel on't, Lonen,'' Gillespie said
cheerily.
"Nae thanks to you if I am," snapped Lonend.
"Hoots! dinna be hasty to blame a man that never
blamed ye for aucht." In no time they were bickering.
Gillespie suspected Lonend's handling of the market,
though all receipts were duly produced.
"There's naethin' to hinder this fella in Bannerie,
whaever he is, frae gein' ye a false recate for a conseederation."
This suspicion had been put into Gillespie's mind
by the Fox; and Gillespie had enough hardihood to make
an accusation when the matter touched his pocket. He
was wont to say that men learn quicker in the affairs of
their purse than in any other. The random shot went
home. He saw hesitancy and read confusion in the face
of Lonend, who began to bluster and rapped the table
with his knuckles.
"Ye'll no' come stappin' ower me the wy ye did ower
Galbraith. Hae ye the richt coont o' a' the gallons o'
milk an' a' the butter ye kirned an' a' the rabbits ye
trapped?"
Gillespie shoved his papers across the table. "There's
the frozen truth," he said, with a sneer.
"Ye can thaw it oot afore I'll tak' it."
"Tak' it or leave it." Gillespie's tone was desultory
with self-righteousness, flicking aside any suspicion of
underhand work.
"I'll no' be at my damn fash."
Gillespie rose to his feet and gathered up his papers.
"Very weel! I'll send ye the hauf o' thae profits" —
he tapped his papers with his forefinger, and rolled up
the sheaf — "an' ye'll send me my hauf o' the wheck o'
that" — with the sheaf he indicated Lonend's straggling
papers — "inside o' three days. Aifter that I'll chairge ye
interest."
"Who are ye to order me like that? Ye damn sow, I
took ye frae a fishin'-boat." Lonend's face was purple
with rage; the hairs of his stubbly moustache bristled.
"It's an ill day I ever had onything to do wi' the likes o'
you. Ye're black to the bane, I tell ye tae your face.
Ye'd rob the Apostle Peter off the cross."
Gillespie put his hand round his ear and screwed up his
features in a grimace.
"Ye're on my deif ear, Lonen'."
"Deif! deif!" — raged throttled Lonend — "Goäd
broke the mould He made ye in for fear He micht mak
another o' your breed." He took a stride forward as he
spoke. "Ye herrit Galbraith's nest; an' ye'd herry mine,
wad ye? It's no' a wife ye've made o' my lassie, but a
slave, a damn slave. Ye'd herry mine, wad ye, ye mildewed
nyaf?" Lonend clenched his hands. "Ye —
"Ye winna strick me, Lonen'." Gillespie backed away
with upraised hands. "Ye daurna; that wad be the
jyle for ye, man; it's no' the time o' year for the jyle wi'
the neeps to sow."
"Ay! by Goäd! in twa shakes o' a lamb's tail. I'll
gie ye a gutsfull that'll put neeps oot o' your heid for the
next fortnicht." And Lonend, with a snarl, sprang at
him and swung an iron fist full on Gillespie's mouth.
"That's the wy Hector Logan pays his lawin'."
In the silence that followed they heard the drip, drip
of blood on the floor from Gillespie's mouth. Gillespie
looked down at the bright spots on the floor, then up at
the panting Lonend placidly, unwinkingly. His broad
form was trembling; a slow, maddening smile crept over
his face.
"Ye jeely-fish," Lonend yelped; "say 't an' be done
wi't. I see the dirt in your eye."
"That's the wy o' Hector Logan." Gillespie drew
the back of his hand across his mouth and brought it
away smeared. "It's a wy ye'll hae to pey me for yet."
He stooped and picked up his scattered papers.
Rage was dying quickly in Lonend. His breathing
became more regular. "Wait till ye pleugh the half o'
what I harrowed afore ye try to come ower me wi' your
tricks."
"Ay! man, I'll wait." Gillespie turned the handle of
the door. The still sunshine streamed into the dingy
room, lighting up the dust on the table and its books.
Gillespie spat blood. "Ye've knocked the teeth doon my
throat," he said; "I'll pull wan or twa o' yours afore I'm
done wi' ye," and he passed out into the peaceful light.
"Gang an' sell your seeck hens an' coont their feathers."
Lonend's taunt followed him down the brae.
Gillespie, with mouth tightly shut, walked home,
pondering upon his agreement with Lonend concerning
the farm. He decided he would sow no neeps. He jeered
at his wife, whom he found in bed. "Ye were he'rtier
wance doon the burn-side."
She scrambled from the bed, all awry in her clothing,
tousled in her hair, and staggering slightly on the floor.
He narrowed eyes of menace upon her, regarding her
condition a moment in silence.
"Like faither, like dochter," he muttered; "an'
what's the meanin' o' a' this?" he said, with low incisiveness.

"I'm not well to-day, Gillespie."
"No, no' very weel" — he took a stride about the
room — "a fine turn I've done to mairry you, wi' your
trinkets an' your bangles an' your piano. I've come an'
gone, slavin' nicht an' morn for ye to squander my hard--
gotten siller. Ye'd think I was a millionaire."
"I'm no' to blame, Gillespie," she answered wearily;
"Dr. Maclean ordered me to take spirits when Iain was
born."
"Tak' your fill; ou ay! tak' your fill for a' I care;
but let Dr. Maclean pey for 't."
She lifted a stunned face to him. There was something
of the perplexity of a chidden child in her look.
"I don't want my fill."
Gillespie made no answer. He often met his wife's
conversation with contemptuous silence.
"You've never a kind word for me at all now, Gillespie,"
she said timidly.
"I've nae mair words for ye, guid or bad. Haud your
ain wy, wumman, but no' wi' my siller," and he walked
out of the room. She felt she was despised. On the next
day she learned that he would reveal the domestic intimacies
ruthlessly to the world, for when she asked him
for money for household necessities, he refused, and said
that in future himself would pay all these things.
Stung to the quick, she crossed over to Lonend with a
shawl about her head — a shawl, the signal of distress flown
by a woman. Lonend, sore over yesterday's business,
gave her little comfort.
"Naethin' like feedin' his ain gulls wi' his ain sea--
guts," he said irascibly. She stayed there over the night,
expecting her husband to come for her. He never came.
In the morning she crept back, broken in spirit, and
watching furtively that no one would see her walking the
Via Dolorosa.
In the meanwhile Lonend had other matter for thought.
Gillespie neither ploughed the Laigh Park nor sowed
neeps; and neeps were important for wintering the cattle.
His ploughman informed him that Gillespie had "putten
on sheep as muckle's the land wad cairry, frae the Laigh
Park at the slack o' the wud tae the Bull Park" — exactly
one half of the farm as marked by the march of the burn.
This was beyond endurance. Against the grain Lonend
was forced to visit Muirhead Farm. Gillespie and Sandy
the Fox were exchanging gossip and pleasantries at the
door of a little outhouse, containing a boiler and heating
apparatus for making mash for the cattle. The Fox had
informed his master that Mrs. Galbraith was living in the
plumber's house in the Back Street. The conversation
turned on the piracy of the Back Street denizens. The
Fox blamed Galbraith. Do what he could the Fox was
unable to prevent these female plunderers from trespassing
in the Laigh Park when they went to the Planting for
sticks.
"There's wan o' the hungry seed that'll bother us no
more. I'm telt they found Betty Heck standin' against
the dike-side at the Holly Bush stone-deid, wi' a bundle
o' sticks across her shouthers."
"A savin' wumman," answered Gillespie jocularly;
"makin' hersel' her ain heidstane."
The Fox was tee-heeing shrilly in Gillespie's rubicund
face when Lonend tramped across the yard. He had a
short whip in his hand, with which he slapped his trouser--
leg.
"A braw day, Lonen'," cried Gillespie suavely.
Lonend planted his feet apart, squarely facing Gillespie.
"What's this you're up tae?" he demanded surlily.
"Ye'll p'raps be a wee mair expleecit."
"What dae ye mean by puttin' sheep on the low
grun'?"
The Fox moved away with reluctant step. Gillespie
stayed him with a gesture.
"Ye'd better bide, Sanny," Gillespie whistled through
his nose; "I'll maybe need a witness in case o' assault."
The Fox, with bleared, ferrety eyes shining evilly upon
Lonend, slouched against the wall of the outhouse and
picked in his red, tangled beard.
"Ye'll need mair nor this scraggy witness" — Lonend
jerked the butt of his whip in contempt towards the Fox —
"afore I'm done wi' ye."
"I winna gang sae fast aboot wutnesses, Lonen'; I'm
jaloosin' I'm no' gettin' market-price frae your freend up
by at Bannerie."
Gillespie, who had already seen this random shot go
home, welcomed the chance of pushing it now in the
presence of the Fox, who had suggested it. "I ken a'
aboot the recates ye hae frae him — a bonny hand o'
write, stampit an a'. Imphm. P'raps noo you an' him
mak' your ain price on paper. Hoo much noo is he takin'
for the job, Lonen'?"
Lonend's face was white.
"What job?" he growled.
"Ou! I'm nane such a scone o' yesterday's bakin'.
Did ye never hear o' the trick o' a man peyin' ye twenty--
four shullin's for a sheep, an' gein' ye a bit o' recate made
oot for auchteen or twenty?"
Men have ability to sin; not every man has enough
to conceal guilt. This is because man is an ethical
animal. Guilt was plain on Lonend's face. He was
learning that conscience is the handcuff which binds us
to God.
"Gang an' sell your ain stuff," he said, frowning at
Gillespie and his conscience.
"Just so, Lonen'; that's the wy I'm puttin' sheep
on the low grun'. It's no' hauf the profits ony mair;
it's hauf the ferm atween us to mak' a kirk or a mill
o't."
"Ye've taen your time to tell 't." Lonend was
exasperated.
"Ay," replied Gillespie drily; "dinna show hauf-done
work to a waen or a fool — ye ken the sayin'?"
"Who's a fool?" Lonend eagerly turned the conversation
to recrimination.
"I'm dootin' it's me ye were takin' for a fool."
"I'll hae the law o' ye for puttin' on sheep on the low
grun' withoot my consent."
"Ca' canny!" said Gillespie, smiling. "You an' me
'greed to hae wan hauf o' the ferm; ye put your hand to
paper on't. I'm mindin' that ye wanted the heather for
the Hielan' beasts" — he shot a sudden keen glance at
Lonend — "I'm takin' the Laigh Parks, an' I'll sell the
lambs an' wool mysel'. Ye can dale wi' your freen' at
Bannerie by yersel', gif ye like."
Lonend, frustrated, inwardly cursed the day he had
signed the bond.
"It's no' set doon in the paper that the farm's to gang
half an' half this wy."
"Wi' a wee bittie ower to your freen' up by," sneered
Gillespie.
Lonend took a sudden step forward, his hand wrestling
with his whip, his mouth twitching.
"No; ye'll no' knock ony mair teeth doon my throat.
It's no' neifs noo; it's the paper ye put your hand
tae."
"Ye damn thief," roared Lonend, flaming out in rage;
"ye'll land on your backside yet wi' your wee bits o'
paper, an' your wee per cents. Ye Jew frae Jericho!
Mrs. Galbraith sweirs she'll hae the hale toon aboot your
ears."
"Does Mrs. Galbraith ken wha began the ploy?"
sneered Gillespie; "it's no' for you to be cairryin'
sculduddery o' weemin's clatter."
"Sculduddery!" shouted Lonend; "every wumman's
sculduddery wi' you. Morag haesna the life o' a dog wi'
you, you hound. By Goäd, she'll come hame wi' me this
very day."
Lonend's one affection was for his daughter. The
treatment she received rankled more than his own defeat
at Gillespie's hands. He imagined that this threat would
daunt Gillespie.
"Tak' her an' welcome. See an' hae the jar ready.
I'll be weel rid o' her."
Gillespie's measured answer fell upon Lonend like icy
water. He quailed inwardly, seeing that Gillespie was in
earnest. He groped for the significance of the word
"jar," and feared to ask its import. He was baffled,
forced to stay his hands, and wage battle with impossible
argument. Gradually he recognised himself in the
presence of an adversary the like of whom he had never
met — a master of craft and words. He had no stomach
to suffer the shame of seeing his daughter back at Lonend.
He retreated under cover of threats.
"Tak' guid care, the twa o' ye, to stick to the Laigh
Brun'. Dinna let me catch ye stepping north the burn
or I'll gie Dr. Maclean a month's job on ye."
"Hoots! what's your hurry, Lonen'?" said Gillespie
suavely; "step in an' hae a cup o' tea — if Morag's no' at
the Lonen'."
"Keep your dirty whustle an' your sang. I'll step in
the day o' your funeral." The whip handle was snapped
in two and flung on the manure heap as Lonend disappeared
round the corner of the byre.
Gillespie strolled to the manure heap, picked up the
remnants of the whip, and handed them to the Fox.
"It'll stand splicin'," he said. As the Fox was examining
the trophy Gillespie turned on him a meditative
eve. "I'm dootin', Sanny, I'll no' be keepin' the Laigh
Park very lang."
Gillespie had profited by Lonend's tale of how, by his
astute manœuvre, he had "done" the Laird in the matter
of the black-faced sheep. Gillespie would better the
instruction. The Fox waited, eye upon the whip.
"Lonen' 'ill be gey an' gled to see me off the ferm.
We'll leave him a bit praisint o' the black-faced sheep
afore we'll gang. Ye ken, I never thocht muckle o' the
fermin'. But, I'm thinkin', maybe the shore end wad
cairry another fifty or mair."
The Fox teased his meagre beard in glee.
"Man," he purred, "but Lonen' 'ill dance" — he
shuffled with his feet — "dance as if the fires o' hell were
singein' the soles o' his feet."
Gillespie smiled and whistled in his nostrils. "It'll
serve him right for his dirty tricks in puttin' puir Marget
oot o' hoose an' hame." Gillespie pondered a moment.
Dae ye ken, Sanny, I never played my cairds weel aifter
a'."
The Fox waited, toying with the whip handle.
"It's Marget," said Gillespie softly, "that I ought to
hae mairrit."
"Ay," replied the Fox; "a braw wice-lik' wumman."
CHAPTER XIX
THESE matters created some talk in both the Butler's
shop and in the Back Street. The talk in the shop was
of no great importance, but it brings us into the presence
of that forcible free fellow, the darling of the town,
Lonend's father, Chrystal Logan, a large, effectual man,
carrying a pliable torpedo beard, well-trimmed from a
thick, red face. Nothing stiff there or about him. He
carried a breeze with him and walked with a surge, as if
the wind of prosperity always blew in his wake. There
are men of that kidney always taking the world in tow.
He would throw up his work to attend any auction sale
within a radius of twelve miles, and come home suffused
with liquor and burdened with impedimenta for which,
at the instance of his wife, he anxiously sought purchasers
on a sober to-morrow. But he had had his day.
Lycurgus will always have a noble feast upon his table.
He told jocular, rather doubtful, stories to married
women, and carried these off with a roaring laugh. A
joyous man, who had his photograph taken every New
Year day, when he made a pilgrimage to Rothesay. The
walls of his shop and house were covered with these representations,
faithfully dated. To the favoured he would
show this gallery, going around with an inch-tape in his
hand. "Here I had an inch and a half of whisker; and
here three inches," and would heavily sigh, for the hirsute
growth marked the scurrying feet of Time. A toward
man, the friend of children, he carried the sun in his
pocket. In his youth he had been in gaol for poaching,
and after took service with the Laird. It was the only
way of curing the itch for a gun.
He wore a famous waistcoat of sealskin, with pearl
buttons up to the torpedo beard, which was dark; on
occasion greyish-white. This was the lovable vanity of
the man. When he had been drunk the world, on the
next day, discerned a change of colour in the beard, like
wakening to streets whitened with a snowfall through the
night. In Brodie's he always drank "whisky hot," and
wore a blue ribbon under the left lapel of his coat — a trick
learned when in the service of the Laird. At need he
turned up the lapel and flew the blue flag. Comrades in
Brodie's made a point of asking him the secret of his youth
— in allusion to his chameleon beard. "Be temperate,"
he would cry, with a wide-spread gesture of the hands,
"like me"; the hands would swoop to the lapel; "always
at the fore — the Blue Peter"; and he never failed to
wink. As for the sealskin waistcoat, it was travelled.
The pearl buttons came from Ceylon; the sealskin from
Seattle, where one of his friends had gone. "It's in
Central America; or, if you want to know more parteecularly,
near Washington." In point of fact it had
been one of the Laird's friends who had gone there, while
the waistcoat had been a present from the old Laird, and
the seal which delivered up the pelt had been caught
napping by his salmon fisherman on the rocks below the
castle.
Lonend found his father in specs and shirt-sleeves,
bending over a piece of leather with a squat sharp-edged
tool in his hand. Lonend, at the counter, brought down
his fist in a rage.
"Him! the Irish scum. His folk got banished frae
Ireland for lifting a rope wi' a filly at the end o't, and
cam' hidin' behind the Heids o' Ayr. And when the
Kyle men made it too hot for them they sneaked in here.
An' noo he's stolen Galbraith's ferm, the black Irish
thief."
When Lonend had ended his philippic his father delved
the sharp edge of the squat knife into the leather, snipped
off a paring, swept it to the floor, and lifted a preoccupied
eye upon his son.
"Be calm, Hector, be calm. At all costs be a gentleman.
The old Laird never got angry. It does not
become us to get angry over a lobster-catcher, a wulkgatherer."
The Butler screwed up his resin-blackened
fingers and made a suggestive plucking gesture. Here
was the eternal distinction between farmer and fisherman.
Justice would perhaps allow a barrel of herring to be
equivalent to a bag of potatoes, but salt water is unstable,
and commands no rent, while land is a hoary possession.
"We" — the Butler slapped the strip of leather on
the counter, and his eyes gleamed — "we are the land that
barred out the Romans; the land that has pride without
insolence; courage without audacity; blood with condescension.
Think of the Douglases and Wallace. Do
not condescend upon this sea-villain who would be a
farmer. Console yourself with cordials, and let him know
his master when he comes to me for harness."
"Harness!" His father's pigeons on the roof scuttered
away at Lonend's derisive laughter. "He'll gie
ye an order for harness when the rope in the middens is
done."
"Say no more, Hector, say no more; remember I sell
whips; and there will always, I hope, be a length of tow
left. The crab always crawls back to the sea. You shall
have the farm yet."
The Butler also was among the prophets. Was it
fatality, chance, or coincidence that caused both the Butler
and Gillespie within the same hour to utter almost the
same words? The crab would go back to the sea, but
set its claws in Lonend as it scuttled.
Another scrap of conversation is more illuminating, for
it gave Mrs. Galbraith her line of action. It came to be
noticed in the Back Street that, while she never encouraged
gossip, she always had an ear for particulars from
Muirhead. So we find the waspish, rosy face of Mary
Bunch at her door. She is on an errand of borrowing a
frying-pan, and cannot forbear observing that Morag
Logan has been living with her father for more than a
week.
"The Logans aye had trouble with their faimly.
Chrystal was in jyle for poaching, and wan o' them died
in the horrors o' drink. If Morag escapes it'll be gey and
droll."
Mrs. Galbraith encouraged her with a nod. "Do you
think so?" and lifted her lustrous dark eyes a moment
upon the pinched face of the garrulous narrator.
"Ay, div I! She was left five hunner pounds in dry
money frae an uncle in Isla'. And he was a bad, bad man.
He got his money makin' whusky an' sellin't to the fishermen
withoot a leeshins. His wife wad go an' cairry up
the stoups o' salt watter to mek the whusky. She was
never in her bed, that wumman, makin' whusky. An'
that's the money Gillespie got wi' his wife. No good 'ill
come o't. It'll gang wi' the whusky yet." The small
head jerked violently; she lowered her voice to a whisper,
and stole a look over her shoulder at the door. "They're
sayin' Morag's tastin'." Mrs. Galbraith lifted calm,
unwavering eyes to Mary Bunch's face, and her heart
beat faster. Had the voice of Fate entered into this mean
channel? "Since Eoghan was born she's aye sook,
sookin'. It'll a' gang wi' the whusky yet. You wait an'
see." She compressed her lips into a thin, prophetic line.
"See the wy Morag Shaw went an' Morag at Donal'
Graham. Dae ye ken? It's my belief a' the Morags are
the same." Her puckered face had a bewildered look as
if she were puzzled by the thought of a disastrous name.
"Let Gillespie reinge an' scrape an' milk the coo as he
likes; she's on the whusky; an' the ebb-tide 'ill tek away
more than the flood 'ill bring in." The biographical tit--
bit had its own effect on Mrs. Galbraith, who wanted
leisure for thought. With an imperious uplift of the head,
well known to the Back Street, she dismissed Mary Bunch.
"That will do, Mary," she said; "there is the frying-pan
in the sink cupboard."
"Drat her," Mary Bunch apostrophised the cats without
on the thatch in the sun, "that's her high-an'-mighty
wy — 'that'll do.'" With spleen Mary Bunch thought,
not so much of the words of dismissal, as of the imperious
sweep of the head, which none in the Back Street could
either withstand or combat. "That's a' the thanks I get
for my news." Yet so magnetic a woman was Mrs.
Galbraith that Mary Bunch would be prepared on the
morrow to furnish anew a banquet of gossip. She had
forgotten that she had had some sort of thanks in the loan
of a frying-pan.
CHAPTER XX
WE allow the years of wrangling between the partners
to pass with their infamy, and come to the exodus of
Gillespie. He had held his half of the farm for three
years, steadily covering it with sheep, during which time
Lonend never lost an opportunity of sneering at the
fisherman farmer — "wha never saw neeps shawed" in his
life. All Brieston knew that they were at variance; and
believed that Gillespie was making a muddle of the
business. Lonend even hinted that it was he who had
broken away from Gillespie, for he had "mair to do than
throw awa' his siller on the experiments o' a man wha kens
mair o' a lobster creel nor a pleugh stilt." Lonend made
capital out of the fact that Gillespie had converted his
share of the farmlands into sheep pasturage. "He's only
fit for herdin' kye an sellin' milk wi' a bell to a wheen
weemin."
Old Mr. Strang was perturbed at these rumours, and
warning his son of the risks which an amateur ran in
farming, urged him to return to the sea.
"I'm no' forgettin' a'thegeither the saut watter,"
answered Gillespie; "but it's saut enough to keep. I'm
no' just makin' a fortune here" — he swept his arm around
the compass of his land — "but I'm layin' the foundation
o' ane."
His father imagined him to be suffering from delusion,
and urged him to give up the business. "I hear naethin'
else but you an' your ferm frae the Bairracks to the
Shipping Box.' Lonen's makin' a mock o' ye; he says
he'll no foregaither wi' ye at the end o' the lease. Either
you or him maun hae the hale o' the ferm."
"I'm dootin' he's findin' me gey kittly to run in
harness wi'."
"Give it up," said the old man shortly. He was
grieved at the common talk of his son's incompetence.
His wife was ailing more than usual of late. Her cough
racked her at night and harried her in the morning. She
rarely left the house now, and her voice had become husky
and weak. Maclean had ordered her inland, but, for some
unaccountable reason, she refused to leave the "Ghost"
unless Gillespie accompanied her. At night, in dreams,
she mourned over her only-begotten son; by day pleaded
for his release from the purgatory of Muirhead. "Can
you not give him a helping hand, Richard? we've more
money in the bank than we need." There was a deposit
receipt for £835 in the kist.
Gillespie, listening to this account of his mother's
state of health with a face of solicitude, flashed a look of
cunning at his father.
"I dinna see my wy clear to move intae the toon."
"What's to hinder ye? your mother an' me 'ill no'
see ye stuck."
"If I'd a wee thing mair capital, I'd mak' a move. I'm
gettin' seeck o' the fermin'." He spoke as if a vast,
dreary world were oppressing him.
The old man sighed heavily. It was difficult for him,
in a land of strangers, to withstand their taunts. "I've
a pickle siller in the bank," he hazarded.
"No, no!" Gillespie interrupted; "yo'll need a' ye
hae."
"Your mother's gettin' sore failed," was the pathetic
answer; "we've mair than 'ill cairry us to the grave. If
five hunner wad gie ye a stairt ye're welcome tae 't."
"Are ye sure it'll no' leave ye bare?" — with beautiful
filial reluctance. Yet he drained the deposit receipt to
the amount of £500, callously stripping the slates off the
roof which sheltered grey hairs. He gave no bond or
IOU, and his father asked for none. Instead he hinted
that his father should sound Lonend about that farmer's
willingness to let his partner go. The old man stayed to
tea, dandled Eoghan, said he must come to the "Ghost"
to see his granny, and left half a sovereign with Morag for
the boy. She concealed the money, and said nothing to
her husband of the gift.
Old Mr. Strang, with whom Lonend was friendly, asked
that his son be relieved of his half of the farm-lands.
"He's makin' naething o't, an' it's killin' the auld woman."
Lonend wavered. The guilt of his crime towards Mrs.
Galbraith was pricking him. This would increase its
burden. He compromised with his conscience by determining
that he would invite her back to Muirhead.
Several circumstances induced him to close with Mr.
Strang's request. He was weary of brawling with
Gillespie, who, he admitted to himself, was more than a
match for him, disarmed as he was in the contest by his
affection for his daughter. Gillespie he found dark,
pernicious, impenetrable, without bowels of pity, immovable
as granite. Lonend's suspicions harboured the
gloomiest fears. At the expiry of the lease he was persuaded
that Gillespie would find means of getting the
whole farm into his hands. The Laird was no friend of
his since he had wrested Lonend from the estate. He
could not brook the loss of Muirhead, being greedy for
land, especially after his public jibes about the lobster--
catcher. Morag, who should have made their relations
tender, alienated them. Lonend suspected that Gillespie
studiously harassed her to vex him. Removed out of his
immediate neighbourhood Gillespie might give over this
guerilla warfare upon his girl. Besides, he hated being
partner with a man who was pursuing a separate interest.
Do what he might, Lonend could not take off his guard
one who was armoured in duplicity, who spoke no word
of censure, who uttered no asperity. "A damn black
frost, that's what he is," Lonend said to the Butler.
"But who, my son, proposed the plan? was it not you?
Never consort with a rascal. He will make your cheek
burn at last." Thus early was Lonend taken in the
caprice of Fate, which turns our foresight to an ironic jest,
and cherishes the most unexpected things in obscurity, to
make of them, in the end, the master of our life.
It was not without a sense of relief that Lonend saw
this honourable avenue of escape from a cuttlefish,
impenetrable behind the ink of his dissembling. He was
sick of the rôle of policeman, and the Butler advised him
on the heels of old Mr. Strang, "Let the crab go back to
the sea before his claws become too big."
Lonend was secretly pleased with this advice, which
jumped with his own wish. His greed of land would be
gratified. He could make good his taunts about the
lobster-catcher, who, once Lonend had withdrawn to his
own half of the farm, had been left high and dry on a
manure heap, and was now forced to retreat in a back--
wash of incompetence among the herring barrels of the
Quay. "Let him keep his 'tattie barrels for saut herrin',"
Lonend went the length of saying to Lowrie, the
banker.
The factor made no objection to the dissolution of
partnership, and agreed that Lonend should occupy and
work Muirhead on the terms of Galbraith's lease. Lonend,
however, was ignorant that the factor had been instigated
to this course of action by Gillespie, who had already paid
that official a visit, and had agreed, on being released from
partnership with Lonend, to rent the stores at the Quay,
belonging to the Laird, which had lain empty for several
years.
Immediately Gillespie got the factor's consent he became
extraordinarily active. In the forenoons of those
days when the wind set to the sea he cunningly burned
the heather in patches above the shore. The smoke was
invisible from Lonend.
"Whatna bleeze is this?" asked the Fox.
"It's a bit fire for Lonen' to warm his temper at."
The moor was scarcely cold when Sandy the Fox drove a
large flock of black-faced sheep upon it. They felled
saplings in the Planting in the early morning, and fenced
every gap on the land, and hoarded every inch of manure
in the farm-yard. Some year and a half previously
Gillespie had introduced a strain of good rams among the
sheep, and in this economical way had vastly improved
his stock. He worked in silence, ignoring Lonend's gale
of jests about his incapacity. The stock was now acclimatised,
the death-rate low, and the fences gave the
stock the appearance of contentedness.
Gillespie was now prepared to leave, and, choosing
his time of year early in May, wrote to Lonend informing
him that, in terms of old Mr. Strang's conversation, he was
willing to hand over his share of the farm, and hoped that
the arrangement could be come at by next month, as he
was anxious to return to the town when the fishing season
was entering on its best period. He had no love for
farming; was losing money on the venture which he had
undertaken chiefly on Lonend's invitation — here Gillespie
sucked his pen, smirking — Morag would be better off in
the town, and the like. He swithered over the signature,
but finally wrote: "Your affect. son-in-law, Gillespie
Strang."
Lonend, sneering at the title "son-in-law" instead of
scrutinising the letter, swallowed the bait. He curtly
replied, assenting. By return Gillespie asked for a
meeting with the Laird's factor to complete the agreement.
At the meeting each man made a show of friendliness,
and it was finally agreed that Lonend should enter
in full possession of the farm forthwith. As Lonend
gathered up the reins in his hands — he always came in
some pomp to the town — the factor, smiling shrewdly,
hoped that Gillespie would leave no sting behind him.
This random remark troubled Lonend on his homeward
journey. He lashed the mare viciously with the whip,
puzzling over the likelihood of his having fallen into a trap.
Before he reached home he was persuaded that the
factor and Gillespie were hand in glove to oust him from
Muirhead.
At the end of May Gillespie wrote informing Lonend
that he would move out in the first days of June; in the
meanwhile he asked Lonend what price he was prepared
to offer for the stock and farm-yard manure. Lonend,
holding Gillespie for a simpleton, refused point-blank to
take over a single head of sheep. He received a letter
from McAskill, pointing out that he had concluded a
written agreement to enter into possession of Muirhead
Farm. The lawyer quoted from the terms of Galbraith's
lease: "The tenant shall be bound to implement the
following conditions, namely: (First) To reside on the
said lands during the lease, and always to have a sufficient
stocking thereon" — this last was underlined — "and
whereas this is a special condition of the lease, it is expressly
stipulated that if the tenant for the time being
shall fail to implement this condition, excepting only
owing to circumstances beyond his control, it shall so be
in the power of the landlord at once to put an end to the
lease."
McAskill pointed out that the stock belonged to the
land, and that, in terms of the lease, "the landlord reserved
power at any time during the lease to resume
possession of such portions of the said lands as he may
think proper." This also was underlined. McAskill
hinted that the Laird would deprive him of the whole
farm.
Lonend went hot and cold as he read. The words
swam before his eyes, and he jumped to a false conclusion
— here was the trick by which the factor and Gillespie
would deprive him of the farm. By Goäd, he would show
them! He would buy every hoof on the farm.
"(Second): The tenant shall not sell or dispose of
any dung made on the said lands, but shall lay the whole
dung on the farm in each year no less than twenty-five
tons of good stable or byre manure, per imperial acre,
and shall exhibit evidence thereof to the satisfaction of
the landlord's factor at Whitsunday yearly."
Lonend gnashed his teeth. His suspicion was correct.
In that moment he experienced a deep satisfaction in his
foresight. Like another, he could have called out on his
prophetic soul. Thus and thus would Gillespie cheat him
out of the farm. No, by Goäd! In an impulse of fury he
wrote a letter to McAskill, saying he would buy every
sheep on the farm, and daringly made an obscene jest
about the dung. Either the jest or the substance of the
blind letter tickled Gillespie. "We've nailed him," he
said, and patted McAskill on the shoulder, familiarly
calling him Nathanael. Arbiters were appointed. The
farm-yard manure was valued at five shillings per cubic
yard. Lonend, exultant, imagined he was baulking
Gillespie in buying the manure. When they came to deal
for the black-faced stock, the arbiters fought so bitterly
that an oversman was appointed. He found the stock
thoroughly acclimatised. Owing to the boundary-fences
— cut by stealth from the Planting — the homing value of
the sheep was recognised.
"Where can they stray tae?" Lonend demanded with
heat; "is't to Lonen' or the sea?"
"Sheep are silly enough to have been drowned before
now," the oversman answered drily. He pointed out
that Gillespie had not neglected heather-burning, which
had helped to keep down the death-rate. The sheep had
plainly thrived on their native grazing. The oversman
was nettled at Lonend's fiery and scornful interruptions,
while Gillespie, on the other hand, kept his teeth on
his tongue and courteously answered the oversman's
queries for information.
Lonend recalled that he had been selling his cast ewes
at thirteen shillings to seventeen shillings, whose lambs,
with the shotts weeded out, had gone for ten shillings.
The price finally fixed by the oversman, in conjunction
with the arbiters, seeing it was early June, was £58 per
clad score for ewes and lambs. There was a big head of
stock on the farm.
"I'll tak' yeer cheque within three days for the manure
an' sheep-stock," said Gillespie breezily, in the hearing of
the oversman, "or chairge ye interest."
Lonend, speechless with mortification and rage, saw
now that all along Gillespie had been determined to
relinquish the partnership.
"Ye braxy beast," he spluttered; "did ye tak' to
burnin' the heather when dacent fowk were in their bed?"
Of all the circumstances this was the one which galled
him most, for he had not allowed such knowledge to
Gillespie.
"Ou!" answered Gillespie, laughing good-humouredly
and rubbing his hands; "Sanny an' me was makin' a
lowe whiles by the licht o' the moon when ye were thrang
in Brodie's back-room wi' your bit joke ower the lobster--
catcher. I wush ye luck o' the ferm, Lonen'. I'm gey
an' weel pleased to gang back to the lobsters. Ye ken I
haena muckle skill o' fermin'."
Lonend's dark face was distorted with rage.
"Come awa'," he cried, "come awa', ye robber, an'
pey ye the siller. Hector Logan o' the Lonen' can
table penny for penny wi' the likes o' you."
"No, no, Lonen', that's no' business. Just pey the
bit lawin' intae Mr. Lowrie in my name, an' I'll be obleeged
to ye."
During the next two days Sandy the Fox and two hired
men from Brieston dismantled Muirhead house. Once
more the clocks were stopped, when Galbraith's furniture
was put into carts. On the evening of the second day all
the plenishing had been transported to the stores at the
Quay. Morag went with the last cart, carrying the child
at her breast, and sobbing bitterly, with her eyes riveted
on the track across the brae leading to Lonend. She was
being cut adrift from her last anchorage. The child gazed
at her with those eyes of infinite depth which children
have, full of a dumb unutterable expression. The next
moment the child was attracted by the brush of the
horse's tail, and stretched out its hands towards this new
allure. The mother was left to sob in peace. Down the
Barracks brae into the town the cart rumbled, and to
the observer mother and child seemed part of Gillespie's
goods and chattels. The descent of the brae had its
peculiar significance for both husband and wife. For
the one it was the descent to Avernus; for the other, a
march towards the Alps and Italy.
It had been a depressing day. The wind, a high east,
had darkened the town, which lay a huddled mass of
roofs beneath a sour leaden sky. The far-off roar of the
sea droned through the gloomy twilight; and as the cart
halted at last at the end of its journey, on the eaves of
the "Ghost" the sign-board jangled its rasping curfew,
ushering in the close of that iron day with its hard
light and a watery sun which, angry with the wind in
its eye, scowled luridly in a wild, marly sky presaging
storm.
To-morrow Lonend would send a grieve to occupy
Muirhead Farm. To-night it was once more empty.
Around its doors, in a rockery of Mrs. Galbraith's, glimmered
the old-world wee white flowers of wood-ruff,
haunting the dusk with their scent. The trees tossed and
swayed, moaning beneath the sky, and sere leaves of ivy
swirled upwards on the roof. A deep quiet reigned
within the dark dwelling. It was housing silence, gleaning
ghostly echoes, garnering retribution. Gillespie had
carelessly left the kitchen door open. Suddenly it crashed
to, racketing loudly through the echoing house at a snarl
of the piratical east wind.
In the "Ghost" Gillespie's mother was dying of consumption.
For two days she had been unable to speak,
and had written on sheets of note-paper. Gillespie had
casually picked one of these up from the kitchen dresser,
and read the pencilled words: "The doctor says I will
not choke." He turned pale with fear.
She was choking now. At every gust of the wind,
when the signboard without groaned and creaked, he felt
her eyes following him in dumb dread through the room.
Trembling, he left the kitchen and passed out into the
night. Beneath the grinding signboard he stood and
gazed across the bay at the dark loom of Lonend
and Muirhead. Within Lonend a man sat in the
empty kitchen at the table, his head between his
hands, his eyes riveted on a sheet of paper spread out
on the table. For the third time he slowly read the
writing:
THIS HOUSE IS DEAD.
IT HAS BEEN MURDERED.
IT IS BURIED IN THE GRAVE OF A WOMAN'S
HEART.
"BE NOT DECEIVED; GOD IS NOT MOCKED: FOR WHATSOEVER
A MAN SOWETH, THAT SHALL HE ALSO REAP."
"It's God's shirra, God's shirra," he moaned. A deep
groan broke the silence of the lonely room.
Some one touched Gillespie's arm. He turned, and
saw his father silently beckoning to him, and followed him
into the kitchen. Morag was standing with Eoghan in
her arms, looking at the bed. His mother was gasping,
her chin heaving up with every effort. Her lips were
dabbled with a chalky froth. In the tense silence Gillespie
heard his father whisper, "She is passing away."
He heard a rattle and gurgle in her throat, and saw the
whites of the eyes roll upwards. There was a gasp and a
sigh; then infinite silence. His father stepped to the
bed and leaned his ear down to her mouth. Then he
straightened himself, turned from the bed, and, looking at
his son, said, in a low, solemn voice, "She is gone."
Without, the signboard with the bloody dagger croaked
to the night.
END OF BOOK I
BOOK II
CHAPTER I
WHEN the plumber died Topsail Janet left the house in
the Back Street and took a single room at the Old Quay,
whose window looked into the rusty walls of the beetling
Quarry. In the first year of her bereavement she hovered
with a quick hunger about his grave; but every succeeding
Sunday the grave grew deeper. She prayed that she,
too, might die. She had to take to whelk-gathering,
and rarely saw the sun within her room, for she went
out at dawn and returned, wet and weary to the bone,
at lamp-light. Carrying her bag of whelks she would
creep cautiously from the village boys. "Topsail Janet!
Topsail Janet!" they would shout mockingly, and careering
against her would send her staggering forward. She
wore her mother's tippet; and once, when it fluttered in
the breeze, some one said "Topsail," and the name
stuck to her. For a long time the name burned as a
stigma; but habit made the brand cold.
There was a profound contrast between the parsimony
of her life and the vastness of the sea, her daily companion.
She waded at evening in gold-red pools, creeping
over the russet tangle, scarce visible save for a fluttering
drugget petticoat. At dawn she was a grey toiler on
a grey isle, which the tide had given up for a little while,
only to drive her shoreward with a gleam of flashing
teeth. At times the shore-ice had to be broken; at
times the squalls rushed up in black to her feet, and the
rain rose along the sea swamping her in misery. To
happy people she probably looked picturesque, wading
in the salt-water pools or crawling about the rocks, as
she plucked here and there a whelk and cast it into a
rusty tin can.
She had her own bigness of heart. One day, as she
stretched her tired back and gazed vacantly at the bare
sea running in white flashes to the empty horizon, the
north wind brought her a gift. High in the blue she
saw a great rocking bird. It plunged downwards, sheered
towards the cliffs, cannoned with a splash of feathers
against the wall of stone, and fell among the sea-bent.
Often she had scurried for home, when, in the dusk,
the whales arose out of the sea and fluked across the
bay. Now she was more greatly scared as she watched
the helpless flutter of wings. She divined the beating
of the pinions to be death. With her heart choking
within her she flew along the lonely shore, hearing the
noise of the great wings, as if the shadow of death rustled
at her heels. Once, round a sheltering point, she stopped,
panting. In the silence she heard the labour of the
wings slacken and cease. Her courage returned. The
solan would be dead. The sea babbled plaintively on
the shore. Everything in the stillness was as it had
been. Suddenly there was a sharp scream, child-like with
its load of pain. Her heart stood still. Again all was
profoundly silent. She peered round the rock, and
clutching at her bosom, stumbled forward, and saw a
white inert mass. As she crept towards it the solan
goose opened its bright eyes and beat the ground with
one wing. This sign of life nerved her. She dropped
on her knees and saw the white down dappled with
blood. The hills began to spin slowly about her and
the sea grow dark, when the wing beat again with a
feeble spasmodic movement, and a low croak gurgled in
the throat of the bird. She thought the sound came
through running blood. A fierce wave of pity swept
over her, and she put out her hand and touched the
ruffled neck. At the touch the bird struggled on its
side along the ground. She followed cautiously, wishing
that her hands were less rough. The bird with the
beautiful pinions became holy in her eyes. Taking off
her shawl she wrapped the broken-winged solan in it,
tenderly as a mother her first-born, and held the struggling
bundle till it lay exhausted, her heart crying out at the
terror of the bird. Leaving her bag, her whelks, her all,
to the greedy tide she set off for home, wild with apprehension
lest the bird die in her hands.
Dr. Maclean was called in. He had hurried at the
summons of Topsail, wondering if she had caught pneumonia
at last. When he was told that his patient was
a bird he swore in relief, and bound up the mangled
wing.
"Some day, Topsail, you'll fly too," he said, going
out.
She looked at him open-mouthed.
"The Bible says that angels have wings. One of
these days you'll fly out of the window and over the
quarry there."
"Ach! away wi' ye, doctor."
"That's how you'll go to heaven."
Part of her small store went to the milk-cart. The
sick bird refused the milk, even though she sweetened
it with sugar. In deep anxiety she watched by it through
the long evening, mending her fire with the best of her
drift-wood, and making a nest for it with a blanket off the
bed. In the morning she consulted Ned o' the Horn,
who contemptuously kicked her saucer aside and ordered
fresh herring. She went to the Quay to beg. The sharp
eyes of the bird swung round, needle-like in their brightness
at the smell of the fish, the long sinewy neck flashed
out; in a vast wonder she saw the tail of the herring
vanish. Croak! croak! came the low, glad note of
thanks, going straight to her heart. Herring after
herring vanished in the maw of the starving bird. She
stared fascinated, and felt like a mother feeding her
babe.
Now she had something to live for. Evening after
evening she hastened home to the solace of her ministry,
till one night the bird rose up with craning neck, its great
wings sweeping the floor — her babe no longer, but a man
grown restless for the outer world, as the strong rumour
of the sea invaded its haven. With tears she recognised
the end of the companionship.
She cut the cord on its feet and felt the bird lusty in
her arms. She clung to it, her face whipped with the
powerful wings, and staggered to the stair-head. The
evening was high, clear, and calm. "Good-bye," she
cried, and opened her arms. Up, up, in strong flight,
squawking loudly; up into the clear heaven, standing
out against the opal sky. Over the Planting into the
north it flew, and the monstrous sky was empty.
She returned to her room and sat in the lampless dusk,
and in the silence heard the phantom hobbled feet which
would never, never more crackle and scrape on the floor.
She had lost her second friend.
By the sea-edge, schooled to patience, her face became
sadder, her eyes quieter. The silence of the sea, the
solitude of the hills were part of her being. In the summer
and part of the autumn she ceased from the shore and
gathered the swathes behind the mowers. Her body was
strong and supple, and she could work without great
fatigue for a whole day. The work was a holiday, for it
brought respite from solitude. Pleasant to her was the
conversation at the dinner-hour in the shade of the
hedges. "It's meat an' drink to be wi' folk whiles,"
she would say cheerily.
The iron of circumstance galled her soul so much now
that she began to dream of eternal rest. She wondered
if she would rejoin the plumber. It was the dream of
a more wonderful dawn than had ever broken upon her
sight across the sea. When overcome with weariness
there would steal across her, like music, the thought that
rest could be gained at any time in the sepulchre of cool,
shadowy darkness at her feet. Sitting on a rock, her
whelk-can at her side, she would gaze into the sea beneath
her, watching the shimmering green. It was a place
unvisited by hunger, unvexed by toil. She whispered
to herself that were it not for the kindly face of the land
she would go. Fixing a wistful gaze on the wide sky
and its sailing clouds, the green of the valleys and the
old forests, the isles and the winding beaches, and the
sea itself, hung with the shadows of woods as the walls
of a room with paintings, she would whisper:
"It's as white and bonny as a waen's cairryin' clothes,"
and sighing, would bend to scraping again in the tangle.
Penury was now disarmed. She went, accompanied by
the secret thought of rest.
One morning she saw a dead man in the water beneath
Barlaggan. Unafraid she dragged the body ashore;
with her shawl dried the yellow-stained face, and in it
wrapped the body. She found strength to be alone
with the dead; and not till the policeman came that
night and questioned her did she know fear. The look
of the dead would not depart from her — the wet hair,
the blue of the withered eyes, drained for ever of their
moisture. "As blae as a berry" they were, she told
the policeman.
The following morning she stopped at sight of the
Barlaggan beach, suddenly afraid of the sea. Where
would she have gone? Only now she thought of that.
It was a cold, cruel beast, this sea. How its waters had
plashed in the open, raw mouth and about the grey hair
matted on the temples. What a poor thing she would
have been bobbing in by the Perch, past the Island,
through the herring-boats, till she came all tangled and
ragged, with her boots full of water, to the mud beneath
the shops — her tippet awry, her dress torn, her breasts
wounded, lying on her back, her face up to the sky. The
fishermen would carry her away, shaking their heads
and whispering. They would not bury her beside the
plumber, but in a lonely place, with a piece of wood at
her head. No, God be thankit, she hadn't done it, and
without looking so much as once, turned her back upon
the sea and bade it farewell for ever. She saw the corn
wave on Lonend, and a flood of happiness filled her
heart. She stood listening to the birds in the wood, and
hated death with a great hatred, and the sea, its regent.
A long-broken string in the harp was mended. Her
mind bloomed like a late winter flower, and people saw
on her face a new content. She overtook some children
on the road beyond the "Ghost." She did not, as she
was used, furtively steal by, but walked behind them,
greedy of ear for their babble. She seemed to herself
to have suffered resurrection. Her mind was smoothed
and folded down out of all asperity. She believed in the
compassion of God, in the kindliness of man, and made
up her mind — she would open a shop. No longer would
she rake on that lonely shore, beside that cruel sea.
She turned in at the door of the Good Templars' Hall.
In the ante-room upon a table, in a long black coffin, lay
the stranger whom the sea had brought to her feet.
To-morrow at noon he was to be buried. Timidly she
stepped forward drawing her shawl about her head,
and peered. Something deep down stirred within her —
a sense of the sadness and pathos which that strange still
face gave to the room. The tears welled up in her eyes.
She went forward on tip-toe, touched the cold brow with
her hand, and closing her eyes, laid her lips upon the
forehead.
With a swelling in her throat she hurried out, scuffled
up the street, knocked at the postmaster's door, and
asked him if he would rent to her the shop in MacCalman's
Lane. Her renunciation was complete. She
had triumphed over the sea.
CHAPTER II
FROM the beginning the shop was a failure. It was
a little shop with a bell over the door to warn her of the
entry of customers when she herself was in the back--
room, for she was slightly deaf. At first she sold groceries,
but the fishing was a failure; times got steadily worse:
she had to give "tick" till her groceries were devoured.
She took to sweets — toffee-balls which she made herself;
packets of Epsom salts; black thread; Christmas cards;
crockery; toys. Her best trade was in weekly journals
for boys. The favourite was The Boys of London and
New York — a pale, green sheet; and, of course, "the
penny horrible." Parents spoke to the Receiver of Wrecks,
the pompous proprietor of the "Anchor Hotel," who was
chairman of the School Board and of the Literary Association.
He pulled a severe eyebrow, and said that such
pernicious traffic ought to be put down. He was a
fitting Oracle, being the father of a brood of children,
while poor Topsail was childless. He spoke to Mr.
Kennedy, the head master, who refused to interfere with
lawful commerce, and uttered the heresy that such
literature stimulated the imagination. The Receiver
of Wrecks muttered something about men in their
dotage, and high time he was retiring.
Topsail, oblivious of this civic wrangling, stood all
day behind her counter, a little woman, visible from
the shoulders upwards. She could not read. It was
pathetic to watch her selling her books. Her face,
brooding upon unflagging domestic sorrows, became
wary and alert as soon as a boy entered. Her shrewd,
persuasive eyes were upon him as she doggedly arranged
her books of red-skins with the most cunning disorder.
She had a curious air of literary familiarity as she recommended
this and disparaged that, just as the coloured
picture on the cover caught her fancy. She was especially
pleased with careering horsemen. Did a boy hesitate,
fingering two alluring volumes with a penny between
his teeth, she fancied he had two months ago already
perused one of them, and as she stooped to lift a fresh
bundle from behind the deeps of the counter, a volume,
not under dispute, was whipped into the boy's pocket.
Foreign coins were passed upon her when these entered
the town; so that the little shop, the solitary isle in the
vast sea of her widowhood, was soon swamped. She
vended sweets and literature, but scarce could purchase
bread. She spent many nights in tears, and at last found
refuge in an itinerant Jew who sold boots from a black
oilskin pack. The pack carried away her household
gods to the pawn-shops of Greenock and Glasgow.
Thus, while the front shop glittered with toys and the
bright covers of "penny dreadfuls," Topsail shivered in
the bleak, denuded back-room. At last she was driven
from this desolation to take comfort in the gauds of her
shop. And the Jew came no more. Those precious
things with which the plumber had lined their little nest
were scattered through mean houses in the city of Glasgow;
and Topsail, with eyes full of pain, turned the key
in the door. She was a piteous spectacle as she shuffled
along the pavement and hurriedly crossed the Square
into the dazzling light which fell upon her, streaming out
from a wide entrance and from three large plateglass
windows. Draggled, forlorn, abject, she paused at
the brilliant entrance, quaking. She remembered Gillespie
as a kind polite gentleman who had visited her
husband on a business of pipes, rhones, and the like for
Muirhead Farm. It was the remembrance of his kindness
which lured her now to his imposing shop, into which
she crept with furtive air, watching aghast the trail of
muddy water which every step left behind on the clean
floor. There was a pleasant air of warmth within. A
barrel of apples was tilted up immediately inside the
entrance against a stack of biscuits in tin boxes, which
were surmounted by wooden boxes full of chocolates.
Away on the left was a deep, dim interior, full of bales
of cloth, ropes, glittering tin-ware; on the right, shelves
were loaded with provisions of all sorts. Her eyes were
riveted on a large half-cheese. The smell of the fruit
gave a stinging sensation in her thin, dry nostrils, and
she felt faint with hunger. She had not imagined there
was so much food-stuff in the world as she gazed round
the shop. No one was to be seen. Everything was
strangely quiet. She heard a clock on the wall in front
of her ticking. Uneasily she felt comfortable. The
heat from a large oil-lamp beat on her face. Suddenly
she heard some one behind her in the entrance stamping
the rain from his boots. She turned and saw Gillespie
filling the doorway, his large, red face full of soft laughter.
He smiled at her and she felt at ease, and jerked a
tremulous hand back from her bosom.
"It's a dirty night," he said, and walked slowly
towards the counter. She followed like a prisoner.
"Ay," she faltered.
"And what's ado the nicht, Topsail?"
"I canna keep my shop open any longer." There
was a hunted look in her eyes. The words burst out
involuntarily as she strove to suppress a sob. Her teeth
chattered violently.
"I could never understan' what you were doin' wi' a
shop. Throwin' money away I'll go bound ye."
She hung her head, chidden.
"An' what's your wull wi' me, Topsail?"
He spoke so sympathetically that she took courage
again.
"I'm a done wumman." Her mouth was still trembling
so that she could scarce speak. The smell of the
apples, pungent in her nostrils, made her faint. The
dazzling light of the lamps was hurting her eyes.
"We're a' 'ill aff thae bad times," he said affably;
"if I gied tick I'd sune hae to shut my shop lik' yersel'."
His eyes smiled down upon her, their light as oil upon
the tumult of her breast.
"I thought ye might gie me a job in the store or at
the guttin'." In press of business Gillespie hired the
Back Street women, especially on days when there was
a big herring fishing.
"It's a job ye're aifter. Weel, I'll gie that my conseederation."
But his mind was made up. He needed
a servant — one who could turn her hand to anything — in
the shop, at the stores, in the house. His wife was
become quite useless. He had forbidden her the shop.
If he was any judge this woman would suit. On the
brink of bankruptcy and starvation, she would be vastly
content with bed and board.
"Hae you, Topsail, my wumman; put that in your
pooch." He gave her an apple from the barrel. She
was dimly conscious through her sudden tears of its red,
sleek surface. Gillespie gauged well the effect of the
obolus; and that night Topsail slept high up in the
garret above the third storey over Gillespie's shop, on a
little iron bed, in a room shaped like a coffin. On the
morrow, the school-boys, having rushed down the Back
Street lane in the ten minutes' interval at half-past eleven,
found her door blankly closed. Their place of commerce
was gone, and Brieston became singularly empty, until,
on the next day, they learned that a corner of one of
Gillespie's counters was reserved for the vending of their
literature. The camel had swallowed the gnat. Gillespie
omitted to render an account of charge and discharge
to Topsail. And she, happy in her asylum, forgot her
tawdry books, her shiny toys, her little bundles of tape,
black thread, and such-like fry. She was too busy.
Deep in the night the flap, flap of her heelless slippers
could be heard on the pavement as she scurried to draw
sea-water for Gillespie's oysters. By candle-light she
could be seen in the washing-house behind the house
bending over a tub, and her cheery, nasal voice could be
heard singing to the stars, "Last night there were four
Mairies," and:
"O! he sailed East, East,
And he sailed West, West,
He sailed unto a Turkish Quay" —
and in the afternoons, with Eoghan upon her knee, and
a hungry light of motherhood in her eyes, crooning:
"O love! it is pleasin',
O love! it is teasin',
Love 'tis a pleasure, while it is new;
But as you grow older
The love it grows colder
An' fades away like the morning dew" —
and, bubbling with laughter, she would hug and kiss the
child, till her vehemence made it cry. Her mistress sat
with her hands in her lap, and a wan smile on her face,
looking out upon the harbour and its ships. She was
thinner now than when at Muirhead, and more beautiful,
with her fine face, like ivory, surmounted with its thick
coil of raven-dark hair. Gillespie prided himself on the
slave he had captured and then forgot all about her.
She was another piece of his chattels — a profitable slave.
Yet Rome fell by her slaves. Slave and mistress were
comrades.
CHAPTER III
TOPSAIL was ill at ease for two weeks because the
house was so big. She was also puzzled by Gillespie.
The idea slowly ebbed from her mind that he was a kind
gentleman. Her mistress, afraid of Topsail's discovery
of his ruthless character, tried to blind her. She had
sunk to that hopeless level of a wife who, downtrodden,
conceals her wound from the world by loyal defence of
her husband. Topsail feigned ignorance, though in her
heart she regarded her mistress as a child who sat half
the day dreaming at the fireside, and telling her servant
of the gay Edinburgh days she once had, or at the kitchen
window gazing vacantly at the cats on the roof of the
washing-house.
Gillespie had discovered the fact — in what way they
could not divine — that they were pinching off the bread.
"I used to mand nine shaves off a loaf," he said one
morning at the breakfast-table, as he stood, with protruding
tongue, slicing down a loaf with a large ham--
knife. "The loafs are surely growin' smaller noo-a--
days." He cast a quick, suspicious glance at Topsail.
"Aifter this I'll cut the loaf mysel'. I'm jaloosin' it's to
Brodie's ye go whiles to buy the breid." The two women
heard him in guilty silence. "We'll hae pitataes an'
herrin' for the dinner," he said, and picking up the
portion of the uncut loaf, put it inside the press in the
wall. He asked Topsail if she had finished riddling the
dross in the ree. She replied that she had. The two
women, gazing dumbly at each other, listened till his heavy
footsteps died away down the outside stone stair. The
face of the mistress was blank with despair; that of
Topsail comical in its puzzled, puckered wonderment.
"What'll we do now, Janet?"
Mrs. Strang's mouth drooped sorrowfully, like that
of a child who, chidden for a petty fault, is on the brink
of tears. Topsail's face was of that summer type that
even disaster could not stamp with the mark of fatality.
The sunshine of her smile would mitigate the direst stroke
of calamity. Her mistress's mouth said — we are lost;
Topsail's eyes — there is hope. Her timid, vacillating
mistress looked at her with the child-appeal in her
humid eyes which never failed of going home to Topsail's
heart.
"I don't know what way to turn. Oh! dear me,
Janet; to think that Gillespie would say such a thing. I
don't know what's coming over him." The bracelet on
her wrist rattled as her hand shook.
Topsail feigned to fill her eyes with the dust which her
mistress had thrown.
"He's that thrang in the shop he doesna ken what
he's sayin'." She flashed her white teeth, nodding her
head and smiling. "He'll forget a' aboot it. The
morn he'll be comin' runnin' tae ax if we've enough
money for the hoose."
"Ye needna say anything about this outside. Lonend
might hear about it," answered her mistress.
Outside! said Topsail in scorn; "I've mair tae
do than be bletherin' tae a wheen women scartin' their
heids a' day at the Pump." She spoke vehemently,
convincingly.
Feminine artifice having thus smoothed the matter,
the two women cast off the cloak of dissembling and
immediately attacked reality.
"We'll just hae to hain off the breid in spite o' him."
In the indomitable light of her eyes victory was assured
to the weakling, who looked at Topsail in vague wonder.
This cunning Chancellor of the Exchequer opened up
cheerful estimates of revenue and expenditure, and
laughingly consented to starve herself. There was
always one source of income upon which Gillespie could
not lay piratical hands. At night in bed Topsail knitted
little socks for Eoghan, and asked Gillespie for money to
buy them at Mrs. Tosh's.
Yet sources of revenue were desperately limited. Their
meagre household necessaries were sent up from that
nefarious shop into which Mrs. Strang was not allowed,
and where Topsail ventured only in the morning to wash
the floor under the eye of Gillespie.
"Well order a bottle o' the auld Apenty watter."
Mrs. Strang was smiling now. She had a charming,
dreamy smile.
"Ye'll need to drink a bottle every week for your
stomach."
Mrs. Strang had been ordered Apenta water before
the birth of Eoghan. Gillespie once took a mouthful
and spat it out. "Soor wersch stuff to be spendin' the
bawbees on," he said, and would never go back to it.
Thereafter it was a safe place for whisky concealed behind
the coloured label on the bottle. Topsail had soon
become aware of this decanter.
That same afternoon Gillespie was informed by one
woman that the other was sick.
"She'll need a bottle o' Apenty watter. She's never
been right since she had Eoghan."
Gillespie was eating his potatoes and salt herring. A
pile of potato skins lay on the table. Topsail was emptying
the last of the potatoes from a pot into a cracked
plate.
"It's hersel' wanted Eoghan; no' me," he answered,
his mouth full of food.
"I'll need three shullin's for breid an' three-an'-six
for the Apenty wafter." She had turned to the sink,
and was rinsing out the pot.
"Whatna breid?"
She flouted him with a laugh. "Hear tae him!
Whatna breid! Are we tae live on win'?"
"Hae ye bocht three shullings worth o' breid this
week?" It was Friday afternoon.
"Three shullings worth. It wad hae been five shullings
if I didna scrape an' sterve mysel' an' her." The pot
rattled viciously in the sink. Topsail smiled into it as
she thought how she was tickling him with this economic
feather.
Gillespie laid down his knife and stretched out his
legs beneath the table.
"Let me see the baker's accoont, Janet," he asked
with a purr. Here were the methods of the shop being
carried into illegitimate quarters of the household.
Topsail was nonplussed.
"Nae use o' fashin' wi' accoonts in the hoose; we're
no' acquent wi' that."
"I doot no'," mused Gillespie; "if ye'd wrocht wi'
your wee bits o' accoonts ye micht hae been in your wee
shop yet."
"I haena a heid for thae things." She was becoming
impatient, and rattled the fishpan away from the fireplace.

"It's because ye haena a heid for thae things, Topsail,
my wumman, that I want to see the account frae the
baker" — he hesitated a moment and rose — "an' frae Kyle
the chemist," and with a gentle blistering smile he passed
Topsail, giving her a playful clap on the shoulder.
Topsail was beginning to comprehend commerce and
Gillespie.
"The cat," she said, looking towards the door out of
which he had passed; "the big red cat." Thus she learned
that a deeper craft was needed to outwit Gillespie. She
would not confess defeat to her mistress. This was not
because her mistress would be deprived of her cheering
"wee drap in the mornin'." Oh, no! Topsail would
see to that somehow; but she could not bear the look
of vague alarm in the face of her mistress, and the spectacle
of her eyes drowning in misery like kittens in the sea;
and hear her pathetic attempts to "redd up" the misunderstanding
with her husband. "Dearie me! I
don't know what's comin' over Gillespie. He was aye
the good man to me at Muirhead. Did I tell ye, Janet,
o' the grand party he gave after we were married?" and
the clinking of the bracelet would cease along the keys
of the piano, and Topsail, with a fond smile upon her
patient face, would listen to a tale that had been often
told.
CHAPTER IV
DR. MACLEAN said that Gillespie had solved the problem
of the British working woman. Certainly the folk who
kept servants envied Gillespie his treasure. It seemed
there was nothing which Topsail could not do. She could
wield a shovel in the ree; gut and pack herring; harness
and stable a horse — Gillespie sent a van now twice a week
to the country. His dealings were mainly by barter.
He preferred this way of getting fresh country eggs and
butter for his shop. He taught Topsail the secret art of
making one pound of butter into two by a process of
mixing equal parts of butter and of milk, whipping them
together in one dish which was placed within another
containing hot water for a period sufficient to heat the
mixture without allowing it to run to oil. It was then
allowed to cool. He sold it a little cheaper than the rate
in the other shops, and drew custom. He dared the law
in this. He dared the law also in the matter of his scales,
which were weighted. Lonend got wind of it, and lodged
information with the Inspector of Weights and Measures
at Bannerie, who warned Gillespie. Six months later
Lonend insisted on the inspector taking action, as the
matter had not been remedied. The inspector, arriving
by steamer from Bannerie, took Campbell the policeman
with him, and paid a surprise visit to the shop in the
Square. Gillespie was summoned to appear in court at
Bannerie; was fined, and bribed the editor of the local
paper to suppress the news. Lonend gloated and told
the story in Brodie's.
But Gillespie was impervious to the common tongue.
He stripped the lead from his scales and instructed
Topsail to commence rearing pigs and poultry; and after
the episode of the baker's account to take to baking.
She was indifferent in the art, never having had a chance
to learn in the vigorous life of scraping the shore and the
exacting one of vending literature. She summoned Mary
Bunch; and after some mistakes and a little waste of
flour and meal, which horrified her — for she was so careful
as to husband scraps for two days and of them make a
dinner on the third day — she became the most economical,
and one of the nimblest and best bakers in the town.
Mary Bunch retired, an emeritus-tutor, with a wallet of
news for Mrs. Galbraith, the chief item of its content
being the fact that Morag had a penchant for "a glass,"
and was starved of her "crave" by Gillespie.
Topsail rose as a rule when she was wakened by the
fishermen coming home towards the break of day, and
dressed herself in a short drugget petticoat of black with
a red stripe, and a pair of thick-soled boots which had
been given her by Gillespie as wages. The house-work
must be got through by the forenoon and the shop
cleaned out, for Gillespie had always one or two little
tasks of his own for her. Friday was her busiest day.
On that day she polished the seven metal covers hanging
in a row over the dresser; the two brass candlesticks;
the pendulum disc of the wag-at-the-wa' that once told
the time to Galbraith, and washed all the jugs, bowls,
basins, and china on the shelves. The stairs were steep,
and she stumbled under the weight of coals which she
carried up from the cellar in the washing-house for the
week-end. Then she lit her candle in the damp washing--
house when the cats wrangled overhead on the slates,
and went through the week's washing. She was afraid
of the long-armed shadows swaying on the walls from
the wind-shaken flame of the candle. They terrified her
with their sombre suggestiveness of menace. She was
glad of the feline snarling overhead, and joined in the
babel with the "Four Mairies" and "Love, it is pleasin'."
Her only taste of fresh air, except when she was hanging
the washing over the little back plot which only the
sparrows know, was when she blew out the candle, and
scurried along the passage, and down to the mouth of
the close. In the amenity of the night she felt a strange
sense of alleviation, as the wind from the sea cooled her
brow. The silence of the great spaces of blue-black
darkness and of the shining sky touched the deeps of her
soul. She would stand with her eyes upon the stars,
watching them with awe, and puzzling dimly as to their
life. She believed heaven lay behind those glittering
eyes, and wondered if the immaculate plumber looked
down in sorrow upon the travail of her life. Then she
would scurry through the close and up the stair, tired to
the bone, and so wearied that she could scarce sleep.
She began to be afflicted with rheumatism in the knees,
and there was a swelling about the knuckles of her left
hand. Some nights in bed her body was bathed in flame.
This was a legacy from her old life on the shore, aggravated
by the cold of winter nights; for she had only one
thin blanket on her bed. She covered herself with the
drugget petticoat.
She was never heard to grumble. Willingness, which
was her characteristic, robbed slavery of its thraldom.
Even on the day of the annual Fair she was patient and
cheerful, though she was worked to death. For the
farmers who came to pay their accounts dinner had to be
prepared in the front parlour. While the town was still
asleep she was up, peering out at the solemn harbour, on
which deep shadows from the hills lay like sheets of iron.
The parlour was dusted. She never forgot to admire
the green plumage of the stuffed parroquet in the glass
case, and handled the mummy as if it were alive. The
dinner dishes and cutlery were washed and set on the
table, and part of the dinner prepared by the time that
the organ of the hobby horses began to bray at nine
o'clock. Gillespie always ordered "a sheep's inside"
for the occasion. Topsail, with hands smeared with
blood, cleaned it out; carried the head and trotters to
the blacksmith to be singed; made black puddings with
the blood supplied by the butcher. She served up the
head and trotters with the black puddings and the liver.
Gillespie saw it was the cheapest way to feed the farmers,
who arrived in the afternoon with hunger in their big,
red faces. The younger men nudged Topsail in passing,
winking and leering at her, and inviting her to come out
for her "fairing," passed their nasty jokes to each
other across her face. Their boots were grey with mud.
Their dogs followed them, sniffing around, and soiled the
horse-hair furniture. "The more the merrier," cried
Gillespie jovially at the stair-head. He was always in
good form on the day of the Fair. While they were
eating, Topsail herded the dogs to the washing-house and
fed them there. As the day advanced a babel of noise
filled the sea-shore street, thick now with people come
from Mainsfoot to Bannerie. The Square in front of
the house was crammed with horses. Strung around the
harbour-front were the booths, the shows, the swings,
the shooting-galleries, the ice-cream and fruit-stalls.
The nickering of mares, the clatter of horses' hoofs, the
cries of showmen and jugglers; the yelling of coopers,
negroes, and men in charge of roulette-boards; the
blasphemy of drunkards; and over all, the booming of
the organ at the hobby horses rang in her ears all day;
and she had scarcely leisure to look out on the welter.
Long after the last naphtha light had gone out, she would
stagger like one sleep-walking up the narrow, rickety
stair to her iron bed in the Coffin, wondering where, in
the morning, she would begin to attack the pile of dinner
dishes. Gillespie always gave her a bag of painted sweets
for her "fairing." These, when he got a little older,
she always gave to Eoghan.
"That's my fairin' to you, my darlin'," she would say,
with an access of tenderness, almost cheating herself into
the belief that she had bought them for him. It never
occurred to her that she had bought them at a price,
though she had not purchased them for coin of the realm.
It was the one gleam of comfort in that long, weary,
harassing day that her gift would be ready for her darlin'.
The light of angels' wings hovered about the paper bag
in her bosom, and brought a tender smile to her face as
it took the pillow in heavy sleep. At her second Fair a
well-to-do farmer from Mainsfoot slipped a shilling into
her hand as he was passing out. She had never received
a tip before, and looked down at the coin in wonder,
thinking the man had made some mistake. That night
she slipped across the blazing Square to the dark lane
at the Bank, and down through the Back Street to Brodie's.
Within half-an-hour, with gleeful eyes and flashing teeth,
she thrust her "fairing" upon her mistress.
It was the night of "wee Setterday," the last night of
the year. The shops were open late; and Topsail was
at the close-mouth. The lights of the town gleamed
round the Harbour. Men and women, boys and girls
moved briskly across the Square and up and down the
streets. The stars overhead glittered in a brittle sky of
frost. There was no one to speak to her. The loneliness
of her life was extreme. The days of a happy childhood
rushed back upon her; the happiness of being wooed
and wed by the plumber. Then the veil of dreams within,
which was her holy of holies, was rent by the hand of
sorrow — the sorrow and emptiness of her later life, its
bitter struggle, its childlessness, its penury, its chains.
She sighed deeply as she timidly looked out on the
thronged Square and the sea-shore street ablaze round the
Harbour. She was about to creep up the close when she
heard a thud, thud on the pavement that ran up from
the corner of the house to the close-mouth. The one--
legged man came nearer with a step now "forte" now
"piano."
"It's a fine night," he said.
He was about to pass on; but something softer than
ordinary in Topsail's voice stayed his wooden leg.
"Ay! a braw night, Jeck."
He leaned against the wall, took out and lit a cigarette.
He was a lithe man, with red face and grey eyes, and a
head that butted forward a little. In his youth he had
been one of the crew in an American millionaire's yacht,
which haunted the Mediterranean ports. He had seen
Paris; had looked down the crater of Vesuvius; had
visited the catacombs of Rome, following "the gentry"
with rugs or lunch-basket, but in his own words he had
"touched wood," meaning thereby that he had suffered
a fall on a dark, windy night on deck, and come home
with a wooden leg. Since then he had stood every day
on the Quay, watching the commerce in coal and herring,
and smoking cigarettes in a vast idle content. But
cigarettes and a wooden leg being useless to appease
hunger, he became the man of the Pier. Possessed of a
large two-wheeled barrow, he transported luggage to the
hotels; caught the steamer's lines; carried the baggage
of "swells" aboard the steamer, and was the commercial
travellers' man. Suave as an Oriental, he gently but
firmly took their show cases and wheeled them from door
to door of the shops, devouring cigarettes. He was known
as "Jeck the Traiveller." In his slack hours he stood
among the fishermen on the quay-head in the lee of the
"Shipping Box," leading them with the most fabulous
lies across Southern Europe. They were particularly
interested in the doings of the American millionaire — his
drinking-bouts, and of how, in his cups, he would descend
and, for a wager, shovel coals with his own stokers; how,
being a brawny man, he would fell them on the plates
with his fist, and soothe the wound in the sober morning
with a five-pound note. There was a rivalry to submit to
the blows of this butcher. Jeck the Traiveller, always in
a slipper and cigarettes, mimicked the American accent,
pirouetting, cigarette in hand.
These Ulysses tales gave an itch to the young fishermen
to seek adventure, crisp bank-notes, and wooden
legs in Mediterranean yachts. Ah! he knew about
ladies, this Jeck. When wheeling his traveller's kit
through the Square to Gillespie's shop his tarry eye had
fallen athwart the buxom Topsail, and we behold him
about to coquette with the lady at the close-mouth on
"wee Setterday." He opened in the orthodox way by
casting an amorous glance upon her and inviting her to
go for a walk. She laughed mirthfully.
"I dinna walk wi' wan-leggit men."
The experiences which Jeck the Traiveller's far-famed
itineraries had harvested were not wide enough to meet
this rebuff. He was baffled; not beaten.
"Have ye had your Hogmanay, Janet?"
She shook a smiling face in the glow of his cigarette.
He offered to step round the corner into Gillespie's for
the necessary poke. Topsail blithely accepted this
manna of the night; and the talk veered from amorous
trifles to the stern realities of life, as Topsail quietly
munched the Hogmanay. Jeck gave her the news of
the town and the Pier. The last thing he did was to
carry up three scuttles full of coal against the morning.
He felt that by these labours he had made an appreciable
inroad upon her affections. And every Friday night we
behold him whistling upon his wooden leg at the mouth
of the close at nine o'clock; and, being an ardent and
impatient wooer, sending her a communication by post.
It was the first time that His Majesty's Postal Service
had ever been employed on the affairs of Topsail Janet.
The missive was a gaudy post-card which Topsail naturally
delivered into Gillespie's hands. On the portion of
one side was written "Janet Morgan"; on the other,
space for communication," these words — "God be with
you till we meet again."
She received a rebuff or two every day from Gillespie.
Soon she learned to expect nothing else, intermingled with
sneers, covert or open. At first she had taken his jibe
to heart, thinking him a kind man, and that the fault
was hers. But quick to discover that her mistress was
also the target of his mockery and rudeness, she found his
jibes tolerable.
He held the post-card between his forefinger and
thumb.
"Topsail," he cried, "hae ye a lover?"
"Ay," she replied.
"An' whaur is he, may I speir?"
"In heaven."
Gillespie was taken aback. "Nane sae bad an answer,"
he said, "frae the writin' that's here — 'God be with you
till we meet again.'"
A flame surged over Topsail's face, and her hands
trembled. Could the dead send messages by the post
from beyond the stars? Her mouth opened slowly
upon Gillespie; her eyes filled with a vague alarm.
"Gie me that," she said, with a quaver in her voice.
Gillespie flicked it in front of her face. "I think I'll
show't to the minister — the bonny bit sermon." Mockery
darted from his eyes.
"I daur ye; I daur ye," she screamed, and darting
out her hand snatched the sacred missive from desecration
and fled up the stairs, up, up to her still Coffin, where
she sat down on the bed and pored on the face of the
cardboard. It was pale grey, with a border of gold, and
gaudy with facsimile stamps at all angles. The position
of each stamp was interpreted by a honeyed phrase
beneath it. Long did Topsail gaze, till the gold edge
round the card became a ribbon of stars in the blue, and
the shining face of the stamps a patch of the spangled
heavens. At last, in some mysterious way, the plumber
had spoken. She repeated the words softly to herself,
"God be with you till we meet again," and the tears
sprang in her eyes. Fervently she kissed the jewels of
the skies, and slipped the divine benediction within her
bosom. With shining eyes and flushed face she descended
to the kitchen. Her conversation with her mistress became
voluble and a little wild — was heaven full of stars like
ribbons of gold, and how did mortals transported thither
send these pearls of Paradise to those upon this earth —
on the wings of angels, was it? Her mistress, sunk in
dreams — they had been more than ordinarily lucky at
Brodie's that morning — nodded vaguely, and murmured
that the kitchen was full of the drift of angels' wings. A
bar of sunlight swarming with gnats had slanted into the
gloom of the kitchen. To Topsail the air was full of a
mighty throbbing. Her fingers stole into her bosom till
they touched the post-card, and suddenly she burst out
singing in a loud, harsh voice:
"God be with you till we meet again.
Till we me-ee-et" —
The thinner voice of her mistress quavered in unison:
"Till we me-ee-et,
Till we meet at Jesus' feet;
Till we me-ee-et,
Till we me-et,
God be with you till we meet again."
At the close of the hymn there was a long silence in the
kitchen. The sunbeam and the motes died away, and
Topsail stood gazing out of the window at the departing
glory with her awed face lifted up to heaven.
That night she lay with the post-card beneath her
cheek, and dreamed of bulwarks in the skies crusted with
stars, over which the plumber leaned, picking them out
and pasting them on to a letter. He beckoned to her
with his hand and let the letter fall. As she ran beneath
the heavens with her apron out, and caught the letter,
a great glory of light struck upon her face, and with a
gasp she opened her eyes to the broad day. She was
late, and heard Gillespie shouting:
"Are ye in a trance, Topsail?"
"I'm comin', I'm comin'," she cried, leaping from bed.
She thrust the post-card in her bosom and there, like
a flower, she wore it all the morning. After dinner she
had to go to the coal-ree. While riddling dross there
behind the stable a horror of a great fear seized her.
The plumber would be anxiously awaiting an answer.
She hurried through her work and returned to her mistress,
to whom she displayed the holy missive.
"This is a caird I got frae the plumber. Is he wantin'
an answer?"
Her mistress, freed from the spell of dreams, turned
a more alert face upon her.
"What plumber, Janet?"
"Him that's deid an' gone."
"Janet! Janet! what are you saying? The dead
cannot send cards."
A look of misgiving came into Topsail's face, but she
fought for the hope that was in her. "It's fu' o' wee
stars."
Her mistress stretched out a languid hand. "Show me
the post-card."
Topsail gave it up and devoured her mistress with
her eyes.
"God be with you till we meet again."
"Ay! ay!" cried Topsail with irradiated face, taking
an eager step forward.
"This is signed 'Jeck.' Who is Jeck?"
And in a flash Topsail understood. A single bright tear
for the perished hope welled up on her eyelid.
"It's no' frae him, aifter a'," she sighed.
"It's from Jeck," answered her mistress, who had
turned over the card and was now laughing.
"What is't?" Topsail's face was puzzled.
"It's the language of stamps."
"Whatna thing is that?" Sorrow was warring with
curiosity.
"Here is one which says, 'Forget-me-not,' her mistress
read.
"The black-a-viced deevil," cried Topsail. "Forget
him! It was only Friday night I saw him at the close--
mouth."
"Answer at once," read her mistress, twisting the card
round to the angle of the stamp.
"Answer! aw! I'll gie him his answer."
"Write to me as soon as possible."
"'Clare tae God! Does he think I'm the school--
maister?"
"Come soon."
"Aw! you bate I'll come wi' the brush in my
hand."
"Do you remember me?"
"Aw! the timmer-leggit gomeril." Tears of mirth were
now in Topsail's eyes.
"A kiss," went on her mistress.
"A kiss! is that on the caird? Aw! the fule, has he
nae sense o' shame?"
"I love you: do you love me?"
Topsail gasped. "God keep us; the auld fule. Just
you wait; just you wait, my man; puttin' a thae havers
through the post-office; the black-a-viced, timmer-leggit,
tarry fule."
Jeck the Traiveller, emboldened by his amatory
correspondence, whistled loud and boldly at the close--
mouth and had not long to wait.
"Ye got the caird, Janet?" he asked anxiously.
"Ay! I got the caird, Jeck."
"The words o' the stamps is just what's in my he'rt."
He came a step nearer.
"Then ye hae a geyan he'rt fu', Jeck."
"Janet! wad ye no' lik' to leave Gillespie's? There's
nothing like a hoose o' your ain."
"Ay! your ain ribs is the best to rype."
He had piloted the wooden leg up alongside her.
"Janet! wad ye be willin' to tak' up hoose along wi'
me?" Deftly his arm went around her waist.
She looked him full in the face for the fraction of a
second, and the next smacked him where she had looked.
"I've a wheen pigs tae look aifter already; I dinna
want anither."
And Jeck the Traiveller went on a blasphemous and
hurried itinerary up the lane.
Topsail remained at the close-mouth watching him
till he had stumped round the corner. Then her eyes
gravely searched the stars and she sighed. The sigh was
not for Jeck, but for the face lost for ever behind the cold
glittering constellations.
CHAPTER V
BUT Topsail had a love upon earth that satisfied in
the baulked mother the child-hunger which had burned
like a fire in her bosom these ten years. Eoghan was her
child in everything but the bearing of it, and was a constant
source of wonder to her. She would sit by the
hour with the baby on her knees, examining its body;
and when she heard the sucking noise which the child
made with its thumb in its mouth, she ached to undo her
tawdry blouse and press that mouth to her breast. She
conned its body and repeated to the listless mother all
she noted — the dark, tiny hairs on its legs, the creases
of fat on its shoulders and neck. Every smile of the
baby called forth an answering smile from Topsail who,
when it cooed, answered with chuckle after chuckle. If
the child cried with cholic, her heart would leap to her
mouth in fear. The mother became jealous and, in a fit
of passion, would snatch the baby into her arms and hug
it to her breast.
On the whole it was a good child, though it showed
on occasion signs of temper; but when it fell asleep this
was forgotten, and all Topsail's being surged up out of
the depths, choking her with tenderness. "Oh, the wee
waen; the wee henny lamb;" and she would sit devouring
it with her eyes, immobile as a statue for fear of wakening
it: She was glad to hear its cry during the night, because
Gillespie had once summoned her to nurse the child,
calling his wife a "sleepy-heid." Now she would steal
down the stairs and, picking up the wailing creature,
would scurry to her own room and steal into bed, the
baby in her arms.
It was about this time, when the child was some
twelve months old, that Topsail conceived the idea that
her mistress should bear another child. "I canna do
withoot a waen," she said; but her mistress looked at
her with lack-lustre eyes, and, wearily smiling, shook her
head. It was about this time also that Jeck the Traiveller,
who had discovered her passion for children, despoiled
the wall of his mother's house, and presented Topsail with
a faded steel engraving of Christ blessing little children,
which she hung on the wall of the Coffin. She loved Christ
for His love of little children; and often as she held the
babe in her arms she would gaze up at His face in awe.
She did not understand this Jesus, who lived far beyond
the blue, and was seized with trembling when she remembered
that He had been hanged upon a Cross; but
her eyes would fill with tears as she gazed at Him surrounded
by children. Once as she looked she heard the
singing of invisible birds high up in the sky — a tumult
of choragic larks. She peered out from her sloping
window, holding the child's face up to the heavens, and
thought that angels stirred in the sky. A strange peace
filled her soul. "Och! Eoghan! Eoghan! he's up
there." It was the first time she had called the babe
by its name as she thought of her husband in heaven.
She wished to go to church. Gillespie acquiesced and
suggested the Parish Church, because he was a deacon
in the Free Church. It would do his trade no harm if
one of his household were connected with the other
church. She went for two Sundays, and was vastly disappointed
in Mr. Stuart, who spoke too quickly. There
was no stirring of angels in the heavens, no singing in the
skies, and she returned famished to Jesus and the little
children and her own babe. As she put off her widow's
weeds she ardently wished she had been one of the mothers
of Salem, and had seen His face on that wonderful day.
Her heart beat strongly in her bosom at the thought.
She felt faint, and cast her eyes down from the picture
upon the floor in shame of her boldness. She hurried
with her dressing, and hastened downstairs to the kitchen
to set the dinner, but discovered that her mistress had
neglected to prepare it as she had promised. She heard
Gillespie's voice in the parlour angrily rating his wife.
She very soon forgot her worries, however, because
Eoghan had cut a tooth.
CHAPTER VI
GILLESPIE was now a man in middle life, ruddy, weather--
tanned, with lank hair streaked over a hard, intellectual
forehead. His determined jaw ran like a streak of stone
down to his tight trap mouth. He had the look of a man
who would thrive in the midst of competition, and find
something to pick up no matter where he was. He was
becoming a man of standing in Brieston, and was asked
to supper in other people's houses, through the influence
of Lowrie the banker. Gillespie would have declined
these invitations, but overcame his antipathy, because
he spread thickly the butter which he had the keenest
zest in eating at the tables of other men, took pride in
his tactics, and brought them to his wife's observation
with gusto. On returning from church he took from his
pocket a fair-sized handful of sweets.
"I clean forgot them," he said to his wife, "till I felt
them in my pooch the day." They had been handed
round at the banker's with nuts during the previous
Wednesday evening. Mrs. Strang, with a pleased look on
her face, held out her hand.
"Put them in the bottle o' mixtures" — he had an air
as of achieving something notable; "they'll sell to the
waens lik' the rest."
"I never thought you could be so mean." With a
look of disgust on her face she refused to handle the
sweets. He thrust his head forward.
"Is't no draps o' rain that fill the watter-barrel?" He
took a keen pleasure in discoursing his prolegomena,
"an' whiles a rain-barrel full is enough to mak' the
fountain-heid o' a burn if ye start it in the right place;
an' it's no the first burn that has turned oot a braw
river."
"Or a dirty one," she flashed.
"Hoots," he said softly; "I'm no speakin' o' the burn
at the Muirhead Ferm."
She flung up her head angrily.
"I'd rather be there with the right man, than stealin'
sweeties from Lowrie the banker." Her cheeks flamed
scarlet.
He was nettled.
"An' wha's the right man?"
"It's no' a sweety merchant, anyway."
"Sweety merchant!" — he tossed the sweets from one
hand to the other — "is it no' the sweety merchant ye hae
to thank that ye're no' milkin' coos an' forkin' dung frae
morn till nicht?"
Traces of youthful pride still left in her flared up.
"I've you to thank for taking me away from plenty
and decency at Lonend. Where's the Locher I brought
ye? Didn't it set you on your feet? You were in rags
when you came trapping the rabbits about Lonend. I'm
ashamed when I think of what I left there."
The scene was uncommon. Usually his wife made no
show of fight, but mournfully acquiesced in all that he
did. Gillespie had begun by neglecting her. After the
birth of Eoghan he ignored her. When he discovered
that she drank he scrupulously kept her from his shop
and despised her, grudging her her food. This course of
action was more dangerous with her than with the
ordinary run of women. As a girl she had dreamed of
the intoxication of life. As a school-girl in Edinburgh
she and other girls used to whisper with heads together
about young men, and smuggled doubtful books into
their rooms. Sappho had gone from hand to hand.
They had witnessed it at the theatre, and had confessed
disappointment with the presentation. This intoxication
in life was denied her. She had long, idle dreams,
and taking whisky at Eoghan's birth as medicine, grew
fond of it. Gillespie was too much engrossed in the
theory and practice of commerce to hold out to this
passionate nature even crumbs. Rapidly they drove
apart, each on a different gale of desire. Such a Sunday
bickering was an angry signalling, as each drifted from
the other, to seek out the satisfaction which life had to
offer.
Gillespie passed through the kitchen with a flushed
face, and descended the outside stone stair. Topsail
heard him tramping along the back passage to the shop.
He carried the sweets in his left hand. She scurried into
the parlour. Her mistress was aimlessly turning over
the boards of the album on the table.
"I met Mrs. Galbraith comin' from church" — her
mistress looked up, smiling faintly — "she's axed ye to tea
the morn's nicht at six o'clock."
Her mistress made no response.
"Ay," urged Topsail, her white teeth flashing in a
grin.
I wonder if she'll have any sweeties," her mistress
said, musingly.
"Ach, sweeties!" Topsail blew contemptuously. "I
told her she's better hae a wee drap in."
CHAPTER VII
BUT if his wife understood his greed, Brieston held
Gillespie to be a rising man. The Banker, for reasons of
his own, introduced him at supper parties to men of standing
in the town. At one of these parties the question of
the Poor Law Clerkship was discussed. It was vacant.
No one was surprised when Gillespie received the appointment.
It carried with it the post of Sub-collector of
Taxes. "He's gettin' a big man," said Brieston with
pride. He had a fair face and an obliging way with
every one.
"Ay," said the Butler; "it's the like o' McAskill, a
limb of the law, that speaks well o' him. It doesna do
for corbies to pike oot corbies' een," and added with a
sneer, "Souple Gillespie." The name stuck to him.
"Souple Gillespie! I'm filled with nausea every time I
see the cormorant."
Dr. Maclean, to whom he spoke, was a fair-minded
man.
"He has business capacity: his thrift is never done."
"Bah!" cried the Butler, "you don't know him; if
every man in the place stuck a knife into him he wouldn't
bleed."
But the fact is that the town looked on Gillespie as a
public benefactor. Lucky had a good word for him at
the Pump.
"He's mekin' a fortune oot o' kippered saithe. Ee
noo in slack times he'll buy a box for a trifle an' sell them
at two a penny smocked, or a dozen for sixpence. They're
tasty fried wi' dreepin'. Mind you it's no' every sixpence
worth that 'ill go roond a family. I'm telt he's sellin' a
pound's worth every day."
A benefactor indeed. Think of his plan of making
one pound of butter into two. "All milk an butter;
no margareen aboot this." Think of how he cut out the
smaller shopkeepers. If the men bought an ounce of
tobacco and two boxes of matches he threw in a coarse
clay pipe. Soon he had the tobacco trade of the fishing
fleet. Oh! there was nothing in tobacco. But gradually
he came to supply stores to the fleet. And what a way
he had. On Monday mornings, when victualling the fleet,
he would force ham and cheese upon the men.
"We hevna been in the habit o' eatin' ham at the
fishin'."
"Just that," he answered. "Ye'd raither go to
Brodie's wi' the money. Is ham no' better for ye than
a pint o' raw grain wi' a touch o' pepper an' a drap o'
saut watter in't? It's a wonder the tubes is no' burned
oot o' ye. You try a pun' o' ham an' ye'll mind a dreg
o' herrin' better the nicht. Good luck to ye, boys."
As for payment he would humorously order the men
out of the shop on the Saturday of a poor week's fishing.
"Hoots! boys! wait till ye hae a bundle o' notes."
The money earned during the week was shared among
the crews on a Saturday afternoon in the rooms of the
public-houses. A share was laid aside for stores. Two
men of the crew were delegated as paymasters. If it
was a good week, when anything up to £200 fell to be
shared among the eight men of the two "company"
boats, Gillespie would turn up his books. He made up
no detailed account.
"That will be four poun' ten shullin's, boys," or, "It'll
run to seeven poun' fifteen shullin's."
The money was tabled; no receipt was asked or given;
the men never knew when they were "clear." All they
knew was — and it was a prideful boast at the "Shipping
Box" — that "on the Setterday o' a big fishin' Gillespie
has a spale-basket behind the coonter to hold the pound
notes." It was very far yet to the time when the common
taunt was hurled at him. "It was the fishermen that
made ye an' fed ye."
They had been a race of seafarers, father and son,
since the town had had a name; in olden days trading
salt herring with the smacks of France for cognac and
silk. They were born to the sea — fishermen with shares
in a boat or owning boats and gear — big boats too;
smacks which sailed the western seas from the Mull of
Cantyre to Stornoway.
From time immemorial they had used the drift-net:
but while he was in Muirhead Gillespie saw that the day
of the trawl-net was coming. It was the transition
period. Government declared trawling to be illegal,
and sent a cruiser to patrol the Loch. The Brieston men
were the chief culprits. Drift-net work was tedious.
They had to hang by the drift-net all night and "shot it"
on the chance of getting herring. With the trawl-net
it was different. They watched for signs of fish. The
single "plout" of a herring would sometimes reveal a
whole school of fish, and at once the trawl was out between
the two "company" boats, and in again within
two hours with sufficient fish in the bag of the net to
fill half-a-dozen boats. The "fry" of the herring — the
bubbles which they put up — was another sign; or when
they rose to the surface to "play"; or the diving of solan
geese; or in late summer and autumn the "stroke"
of the herring in the water, that is, the trail of flame
which it made when darting through the phosphorescent
sea. A common practice on these occasions, on moonless
autumnal nights, was to strike the anchor on the bow
head as the skiff sailed along, and startle the fish, which
darted away trailing fire. On such nights this loud
noise of "crepping the anchors" could be heard over all
the fleet.
But whatever the signs of fish were, anything up to two
hundred boxes at a pound sterling a box might be had
within a couple of hours. Not infrequently the Fishery
Cruiser caught them in the act. The trawl was cut away
and sunk. But what was a trawl, when one lucky "shot"
would bring them the price of half-a-dozen trawls? Was
Gillespie not a benefactor? He supplied the trawls. It
was only in reason, as the men were bound to recognise,
that he raised the price of trawl-nets gradually — £35,
£40, £45, £50. Look at the risk he was taking. He was
liable to fine and imprisonment like themselves at Ardmarkie.
He sympathised with them on the loss of their
nets. It was a shame that the officers and men of the
cruiser were allowed with impunity to search the houses
for trawl-nets — and on a Sunday, too, when the men were
at church. Peggy More was arrested for attacking one
of them with a stool. Yes; he had heard that she had
given birth to a child in jail. It was horrible. But
never give in, boys. The time of free trawling was
coming. No one seemed to suspect that the Government
men had accurate knowledge of the houses and lofts
which concealed trawl-nets. It was impossible that an
informer could live in Brieston — not even Gillespie had
the taint of suspicion, even though he profited by the
sales of trawl-nets. It is true that he was seen walking
above the "Ghost" with a telescope in his hand, but that
was only to see if there were any boats about with herring
For now there was no question whatever about Gillespie
being a grand benefactor. He had turned herring buyer
in a dramatic fashion. His had been a superb action.
He saved hundreds of pounds worth of fish from destruction,
and mounted to the zenith of popularity.
CHAPTER VIII
IN foul and fair weather Gillespie walked the wharves
and quays, and nosing about among herring-boxes and
fish-guts, would ask the fishermen and smacksmen news
of the fishing. This was accounted to him for sociability.
He entered into the interests of their trade and knew the
baffling tides of their fortune, and picked up information,
carelessly noting everything of importance that fell.
Especially he watched the methods of the herring
buyers. These were two. Either out on the Loch in
smacks which, when a full cargo was taken aboard, set
sail for Glasgow. If there was no prospect of wind they
offered a low price for the herring because of the risk of
transport. On Saturday mornings the smacksmen refused
to buy at all. Other buyers waited on the quays
to which those fishermen came who found no market
among the smacks. On the days of a "big fishing" the
fishermen had sometimes to throw whole skiff-loads into
the Harbour for want of a market.
The Quay buyers were meagre men. They rarely
risked more than twenty boxes, which they sent to
Glasgow by luggage steamer; other trifling boxes they
bought on commission for merchants in Rothesay, Dunoon,
and Helensburgh. Gillespie was soon master of their
methods. He noticed they were a fraternity. If one of
them happened to be a little earlier on the Quay than the
others he bought up the fish — to share them later on with
the slug-a-beds. Gillespie pointed out to the fishermen
this heinous lack of competition.
He studied the flow and ebb of the Glasgow Fish
Market, and keenly watched the Baltic ports as a haven
for salt herring. He discovered that Manchester and
Liverpool would take unlimited supplies of fresh herring
packed in ice. And he waited patiently. No one knew
that he had leased from the Laird the long row of stores
and curing-sheds stretching along the shore road from
the Quay. On a June morning of perfect calm, when ducks
were swimming about in the Harbour, a skiff was seen
coming in at the Perch, deep to the gunwales. The men
on the beams were sitting on herring as they rowed. She
was followed by a second, a third, a fourth, and a fifth,
under clouds of gulls. The smacksmen had refused
to buy. The half-dozen buyers on the Quay were in a
flutter, running about like hens, sharing their empty
stock. They bought some seventy boxes between them.
There yet remained four and a half boats of herring. The
fishermen were now offering these at any price — instead
of being offered; at five shillings a box, four shillings,
three, two, one. Standing on the Quay and looking down
upon these fishermen in their loaded boats, one caught a
look of pathos upon their rugged faces, tawny with sweat
threshed out of them in a fifteen-mile pull in the teeth of
the tide. Their tired eyes were grey like the sea, their
blue shirts with short oilskin sleeves were laced with
herring scales; and herring scales smeared the big fishing
boots which come up over the knee; their hands were
slippery with herring spawn; even their beards and pipes
were whitened. Everywhere a flood of light poured
down. It stiffened and blackened the blood of the bruised
fish, and the heat brought up that tang of fish and that
savour of brine which have almost an edge of pain, so
sharp, haunting, and fascinating are they in the nostrils
of men who have been bred as fishers and have lived upon
the salt water. The spectacle was compelling in its
beauty, in its suggestion of prodigal seas and of the tireless
industry and cunning craft of man; and at the same
time sad with the irony of circumstance — niggard dealers
haggling, shuffling, sniffing in the background. The
dotard buyers shook their heads, though their mouths
watered. They could not cope with one hundredth part
of the fish. It was too early in the season for curing.
Besides, they had no empty stock. One of them, in
slippers, with a narrow face and rheumy eyes, gave a
doleful shake of his head. "No use, boys. It's the big
market for them." The "big market" was the sea.
What a heartbreaking task was there — to basket all
these fish into the sea. These fishermen had laboured
all the night and toiled home through the long, blazing
morning. The fish were worth ten shillings a box in
Glasgow. To basket herring up on the Quay and into
the boxes — the music of chinking gold was in it; but
into the Harbour — how green and still it was — that was
hell.
A deep silence fell down the length of the Quay. One
by one the fishermen, with dumb faces, sat down on the
gunwales, the oars, or the beams, eyeing the load of fish.
An old man seated on the stern beam of the second boat
lifted a massive head slowly and took off his round
bonnet. He seemed to be invoking Heaven. As they
had come homewards in the break of day to the sweep
of the oars, he was given the tiller, being too old for that
long pull. As he leaned upon the tiller he had dreamed
in the somnolent morning of the spending of money.
The sun glanced and shone on his round, bald head. The
streaks of grey hair were smeared with herring scales.
He opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it hopelessly
in acquiescence of Fate. The frustrate words were
more eloquent of despair than any rhetoric. Some one
forward said "Ay! ay!" and sighed deeply. The old
man bent and lifted a herring. He held it a moment
aloft in the glittering sunlight; then tossed it into the
sea. It fell with a plout which seemed to crash in through
the tremendous silence. Every eye followed it, wriggling
down to the bottom. The old man nodded to the crews.
"Gull's meat, boys! gull's meat;" and he collapsed
in the stern beam, huddled up, a piteous, forlorn wisp,
stupidly nursing the old rusty round bonnet in his hands.
An air of profound sorrow hung over the boat. She
seemed chained in white, gleaming manacles. It was not
precious food that was aboard any longer but ballast.
The uneasy shuffling of men's feet on the causewayed
Quay — all the idlers of the town had assembled — was now
the only sound which broke the silence. In the clean
face of bountiful heaven it was an indecency, a crime,
to cast that bulk of food back to the sea, which lay with
the patience and the sombre expectation of the grave on
its sparkling face.
"Sanny, my man, hold up your pow." The words
were spoken in a quiet penetrating voice. As if he were
a child on a bench at school, the old man lifted his bowed
head and looked into a red, jolly face. Every eye was
turned with Sandy's upon Gillespie, who stood alone,
leaning against the head pile of the Quay, with his baffling
whimsical gaze steady on the old man's face.
"Ye've had a touch, Sanny." We call a real big haul
"a touch."
"Ay! Gillespa', a bonny touch, tae feed the gulls."
Gillespie was broadly laughing without making any
audible sound.
"That's no' work for a man that has been fifty years
at the fishin', Sanny." Every one present had pricked
ears. A subtle change had come into the atmosphere.
It was indescribably charged with hope. The old man
lifted up his bonnet and put it on his head. It was an
act partly of reverence, partly signalising that a crisis
had been past.
"Boys" — Gillespie's quick gaze swept round the boats
and his voice rang out cheerily — "I'll buy the five boats
at a shilling a box." An uneasy silence fell down the
Quay. Men glanced at one another, and then stole an
amazed look at Gillespie. A voice, like the crack of a
whip on the still air, rang out from one of the boats.
"By Goäd, but you're a man."
Andrew Rodgers padded softly in his slippers up to
Gillespie, his slit eyes blinking as if he had arisen from
sleep. He came of a race of fish-men. His father had
cadged herring through Bute, buying them in a little lug--
sail. He was tacitly recognised as chief of the coterie
of buyers, all of whom deferred to him. He lived in a
house overlooking the Quay, and was accustomed to have
the fishermen wait on him. They awakened him in the
early morning by throwing mud and chuckies on his
window-pane. He knew that Gillespie had "a big thing"
in the stuff, but where was his empty stock? Besides,
it was impossible to get the fish to Glasgow that day. The
luggage steamer was gone. The next day at evening was
the soonest the fish could reach the city. The market
would then be closed. The stuff would have to lie on the
Broomielaw till the following day. Three whole days, and
in this heat. The bellies would be out of the fish. He
smiled up in Gillespie's face sardonically.
"Fine, man, fine; is it manure for Muirhead ye're
buyin'?" As he looked down on the shimmering bulk of
fish his face was contorted with a spasm of hatred. He,
the best buyer on the Quay, not so much as asked by
your leave. The other buyers, the idlers, and fishermen
looked on at the duel. Gillespie from his broad jovial
height purred down on the acidulous little man.
"Hoots! Andy, I've gien ower the fermin': I'm goin'
to try my hand at the buyin'."
"Ye'd better go to the school first an' learn a wee."
"I've bocht them at a shullin'. Can you buy them
chaper?" A roar of laughter went up from the Quay.
Gillespie, still smiling, said, "I'll stan' doon an' gie ye a
chance yet, Andy."
"I winna tek' the damn lot at fivepence."
"No, man."
The withering words stung.
"Ye should learn to buy fish afore ye leave the back
o' the coonter. Ye'll come doon heavily on this,"
snapped Andy.
The other buyers felt this was a just warning. The
man was a fool to take all that perishable stuff on his
hands.
"Andy, my man" — Gillespie spoke as if chiding a
fractious child — "they're gran' herrin', are they no?
worth half-a-soävrin' the box."
Andy's inane laugh cackled loudly over the Quay.
"Half-a-soävrin'!" The idea spurted out ribald
laughter. He shuffled about in his slippers. "Up wi' your
herrin', boys; Gillespie's goin' to fill them in sweetie
boxes." All the buyers wheezed with foolish mirth;
but old Sandy stood up in the stern with flashing eyes and
whipped the carved tiller from the rudder head.
"If I was as near ye, Andy, as I'm far from ye, I'd mek'
ye feel the wecht o' this." He swung the tiller about his
head. "Gillespa's bocht the fish. That's more than
ye could do, ye louse. Ye hevna the he'rt o' a pooked
dooker."
In the midst of the laughter Andy roared:
"Away up to the shop in the Square, Sandy, an' cairry
doon the sweetie boxes."
Gillespie laid a hand on his shoulder. "Come wi' me,
Andy, an' I'll show ye my sweetie boxes." He turned
to the boats, "You Ned, an' you Polly, an' you, an' you,"
— he pointed with his forefinger to the young men of the
crews — "come an' cairry doon the sweetie boxes."
All the Quay and half the crews babbling followed
Gillespie. He turned to the left, passed along the dike
of the Square, above the Quay, stopped at the first of the
doors in the long line of sheds and stores belonging to the
Laird, and took a key out of his pocket.
"Are they your stores?" snapped Andy.
Gillespie nodded.
"Well, I'm damned, boys; an' never a word aboot it."
"This key's a wee roosty," answered Gillespie, and
turning it gratingly pushed open with knee and hand
the big red door. From ceiling to floor the store was
packed with splinder-new herring barrels and boxes, tier
upon tier. Quietly, unassumingly, Gillespie had had a
score or so of these boxes and barrels brought down to
him from Glasgow in every gabbart and puffer which had
borne coal for his ree. The surprise of the rented stores
was nothing to this.
"Goäd, boys," some one in the background shouted,
"Gillespa' hes a forest o' barrels."
The crowd surged forward, peering at the miracle.
Gillespie had forgotten Andy. That cheap sort of
triumph had no appeal for him.
"Now, boys! now, boys!" he cried briskly, rubbing
his hands; "doon wi' the boxes to the Quay. I'm in a
hurry."
Andy was athirst. "Where in the name o' Goäd did
ye steal the barrels?"
Gillespie shouldered past him. "Dae ye no' see I'm
thrang, man?" — his tone was faintly irascible. "The bit
sweetie boxes cam' frae the shop"; and with a jerk of
his hand he brought the first tier of barrels to the floor.
"Hurry now, boys; I must catch the market." He
kicked a barrel to the door. There was an air of capacity
and mastery about the man.
"He'll likely hae a steamer in the other store." Andy's
very eyes rolled with irony.
"When the herrin's filled I'll show ye the steamer.
An' noo, Andy, ye'll hae to stan' aside. Ye're wastin'
time;" and gently but firmly he shoved the waspish
man from the doorway. Old Sandy suddenly stepped
forward and took Andy's place. The shadow of the
boxes darkened his wizened countenance. He held up
his hand. "Wan meenut, boys." Gillespie straightened
his back.
"Are ye goin' in for the buyin', Gillespa'?"
Gillespie nodded impatiently.
"Boys! I've been a fisherman a' my days; an' no for
fifty strucken years hae I seen what I saw the day. Thae
men" — his condemning eyes swept over the buyers —
"wad hae left us on oor backside. Never a tail that I
fish will I sell to ony man noo but Gillespa' Strang as long's
God leaves braith in my body." He smacked his palm
with his clenched hand.
"Hear! hear! Hurrah! hurrah!"
From that moment Gillespie was the man of the fleet.
The deep-throated hurrahing was the knell of the buyers.
Some one in the crowd began to boo. "Way there,
boys!" Gillespie appeared shouldering one of his brand--
new boxes, followed by one of the crew with one box on
his shoulder and trailing another by its bicket.
CHAPTER IX
THE idle buyers lined the "Shipping Box" at the Quay,
watching dourly as box after box was filled from the
teeming cran baskets. The Quay rang under the iron--
heeled sea-boots, stamping under the weight of the
baskets. Gillespie, Sandy the Fox, and Jeck the Traiveller
stood by the boxes. At midday three of the boats were
discharged and had gone to anchor. Gillespie held a
brief consultation with the fishermen, who ceased filling
the boxes.
"By Goäd!" whispered Andy, "he's fed up."
"I'm no sae sure o' that," said Queebec, a fiery--
faced buyer, and discerner of men, who in his youth had
made a voyage to Quebec. He was discovering in himself
a certain respect for Gillespie. They left the "Shipping
Box" and joined the circle about Gillespie, who nodded
cheerily to them. "Hot work this, boys," and went on
speaking to the fishermen. "Ye understan' Ill send ye
doon a gallon o' beer an' biscuits an' cheese."
"Did ye hear thon? Andy whispered behind his
hand; "beer an' cheese." The thing was unheard of.
"Right O!" cried young Polly; "we're your men every
day." Above the Quay and adjacent to the stores was
a large oblong Square, surrounded on three sides by a
four-foot dike. The fourth side was partly built in with
the dike, but a space was left to approach it from the
Quay by a flight of three broad steps. Sandy the Fox,
who had been hastily summoned from the coal-ree,
entered the store, along with three fishermen. They
reappeared each at the corner of a huge tarpaulin, which
they dragged into and spread out in the Square.
"He's rented the Square as weel frae the Laird," said
Tamar Lusk, an active, bent, bow-legged man, who
combined the buying of a meagre box of herring with
the selling of ice-cream, vegetables, and newspapers.
"There's nothin' ye can teach Gillespie." He meant
to sting Andy, whom he hated with years of herring--
buying hatred, because Andy cheated him like a fox.
Andy, however, was too petrified to feel the jibe, and
Tamar lunged again.
"Gillespie's the boy; he'll sweep us a' off the Quay in
wan whup."
"The waff o' a newspaper 'ill sweep you off, ye
bloomin' Eyetalian. What's the salt for, Ned?" he
wheeled on a fisherman who was rolling a heavy, grinding
barrel, its new wood tarnished with mud. The
fisherman straightened his back, took out his clay from
the top waistcoat pocket, and borrowed a match from
Andy. He was a tall man, slow of speech, with a grave
eye.
"Gillespie's goin' tae show you boys how to work wi'
herrin'" — there was an accent of pity in his voice — "he's
for roilin' them in salt."
"In salt! where did he get the salt?"
The grey eye smiled. "In the sweetie boxes behind
the coonter," and was on its way again behind a puff of
smoke.
Cran basket after cran basket was carried up the stone
steps and poured on the tarpaulin. Gillespie and Sandy
the Fox stood, each at one end of the growing pile, with
a shallow tin plate in his left hand, with which he scooped
up salt from a barrel, drew his right hand across the salt,
and hailed it down on the fresh fish, as a sower sows
seed. The Square was full of the tinkling sound of the
falling salt. Jeck the Traiveller sat on an upturned
herring box, and as every cran was emptied on the pile,
the fishermen shouted "Tally!" "Tally oh!" answered
Jeck, and dropped a herring into a small basket. In this
way the count of the crans was kept.
Another of the boats was discharged. The fishermen,
wet with sweat, drank their beer and ate their biscuits
and cheese. They had never been fed before in discharging
fish, and the last bolt in the doors of their heart
was drawn. Andy had been whispering, "No wonder he
was keen on your stuff at a shillin' a box wi' a' that stock.
Catch him biddin' when they were at five shillin's."
For all that the fishermen esteemed Gillespie as a man
of bowels, who had plucked their fish from the "big
market." And where was his own market? And now
beer and cheese. He was their comrade, the fisherman's
friend.
"I hope to Goäd," cried old Sandy, as he drew the back
of his hand across his mouth, "he'll get a pound a box.
He's the best man in Brieston that Goäd ever put braith
intae."
Work was begun again and the second boat discharged.
The salted pile of fish gleamed high in the Square. Barrels
were rolled from the store, and filled with shovels from
the pile. Andy, putting on a supercilious face, went up
the stairs leisurely, meaning to pick a sure bone at his
ease. "Hey, Gillespa'! I thought ye were in a hurry?"
"A mile a meenut's the speed," came back the genial
answer.
"Weel, I never saw herrin' roiled that wy before."
"No?"
"The wy it used tae be done was to fill the barrels,
an salt the herrin' as they were goin' frae the cran
basket tae the barrel. Ye've been gien' yersel' double
labour."
"Ye micht hae told me earlier," said Gillespie unabashed.

"Oh! ye think ye ken everything; I just let ye hev
your own wy."
"Weel! weel! a' that, Andy. I'll tell you something
my faither's faither learned doon by the heids o' Ayr: ay
roil them first ootside the barrels."
"Ay," came the sarcastic rejoinder.
"Ye see, Andy, when ye roil them in the barrels they
sink terrible wi' the shakin' o' the steamers an' the trains
an' when they reach the mercat it's no' a fu' barrel ye'r
offerin'. The fish-merchants lik' a fu' barrel. An' the
herrin' keep their bellies better this wy; but you'll ken
best, Andy."
He was not only buying herring: he was teaching
them something new about their business.
"Ye'll hae tae get up early in the morn wi' tackets in
your boots afore ye get to windward o' Gillespie," wheeze
the asthmatic Queebec.
"Ay! he's no a scone o' yesterday's bakin'," Tama
Lusk gloated.
As each barrel was filled Gillespie covered it wit
a top of canvas cloth, nailing the cloth round wit
tacks.
"He can cooper as weel: I'll never leave the ice-cream
shop again; but Andy cursed Tamar for a fool.
The whitened tarpaulin lay empty in the sun; an
the men, finishing their beer and cheese, eyed the three
hundred odd barrels of fish — proud of their labour — an
discussed the new order. On every one's tongue was
word of commendation or friendship for Gillespie. His
action was heroic. He had stood gallantly in the breach
of the sea.
"Does the damn fool think roiled herrin' 'ill keep in
this weather?" Andy had again found a platform in
Gillespie's inability to dispose of the fish — "An' what o'
the fresh herrin' in the boxes?" he asked. "Manure!
fair manure! they'll be stinkin' afore they get to the
mercat."
"It's you has the black he'rt, Andy," roared old Sandy.
"It's time your day was done on the Quay. Goäd be
thankit, there's wan man that can buy fish, mercat or no
mercat."
Precisely at that moment that one man was handing
two telegrams across the counter of the Post Office — one
to a Manchester firm, which ran: "Sending 330 barrels
large herrings in salt." The other was to a merchant
in the Glasgow Fish Market. "Sending 645 boxes large
herrings by special steamer; arrive night." The Glasgow
Fish Market would be closed before the hour of arrival,
but early the following morning, Gillespie knew, a long
line of lorries would be on the Broomielaw; the lumpers
would be waiting. Gillespie's herring would be first in
the market next day; at nine o'clock sharp the auctioneer
would have them under his hammer, while the herring
smacks would only be trailing round the Garroch Heads,
six hours from market. Gillespie would have the market
to himself.
"Manure! fair manure; hell be fined for bringin'
refuse into Glesca," sniped Andy.
"Weel, Andy, I was never so puzzled since the day
I saw white poirpoises off Newfoundland." Queebec
scratched his pow solemnly. At the old Quay, used for
discharging coal, some four hundred yards further in the
Harbour, lay a puffer, which had brought a cargo from
Ardrossan for Gillespie's ree.
"Are ye dischairged?" Gillespie asked a black--
bearded man who was drying his hairy arms in a rough
towel.
"Naethin' left but fleas," was the succinct answer.
Gillespie lightly swung himself aboard forward.
"Where are ye for?"
"The Port."
"Goin' back light?"
The bearded man freed his face from the towel.
"As licht," he answered, "as a pauper's belly."
"I'll gie ye some ballast as far's the Broomielaw."
The bearded man's eyes twinkled. "Deid cats?" he
inquired.
"Deid herrin'. Will ye mek' a run for me to Glesca?"
"Lik' hey-my-nanny," said the master mariner,
becoming alert.
"Ye'd be burnin' your coal ony wy" — Gillespie was
meditative — "You'll be gled o' the price o' the coal."
"I winna objec'."
"Twenty pound for the run."
The bearded man pulled a solemn face, though secretly
he was glad of the found money. "Ye were goin' back
licht," and, Gillespie added significantly, "I'll soon be
wantin' another cargo o' coal if this fishin' continues."
"Streitch it to twenty-five."
Gillespie made a rapid calculation. For the number
of boxes and barrels twenty-five pounds worked out at
sixpence a package. The freight by luggage steamer was
three shillings. He laid his hand on the jocose mariner's
arm, and sucked in his breath. "You an' me 'ill no'
quarrel ower a five-pun' note. I'll mak' it twenty-five
pounds if ye drive her an' get up the night."
"I'll can do't in seeven 'oors, nate; the sewin' machine's
in good order"; he jerked his thumb towards the engines.
"Get her doon to the Quay then; I'll get the fishermen
to gie ye a hand wi' the stuff."
"Hae ye many?"
"Oh! a pickle, a pickle," cried Gillespie as he mounted
the breast wall. He appeared in the Square with a large
pile of labels, a box of tacks, and a hammer, and briskly
instructed the fishermen to roll the barrels on to the
Quay.
"Rowl them ower the Quay heid," shouted Andy,
derisively; "it'll save them frae the dung-heap in
Glesca."
Gillespie, who was standing beside the first barrel,
imperturbably beckoned Andy with the hammer.
"Step ower, Andy, an' ye'll see their desteenation."
Gillespie tacked a large red label on the side of the
barrel. The name and address of a fish salesman in
Manchester was printed on the card in large, black type.
He handed a label to Andy.
"It's a wee further than Glesca, Andy."
Andy flung the label in the mud, spat, and stamped
on it.
"Dinna be sae wastefu' o' guid gear, Andy," said
Gillespie, his mouth full of tacks; "I had to pay postage
on thae labels a' the wy frae Manchester." Nimbly he
went from barrel to barrel tacking on the labels. In
the midst of this work a puffer came steaming down the
Harbour. An ordinary sight, scarcely noticed. Suddenly
a stentorian voice rang across the water. "The Quay
ahoy! catch this line."
It was a common thing for such craft to put in at
the Quay for oil or stores. No one surmised, and the
puffer was warped up. Gillespie appeared with a bundle
of slings from the store of the luggage steamer, which lay
behind the "Shipping Box." The coal bucket of the puffer
was unhooked from the end of the chain, and steam
turned on the winch.
"Goäd! but he's chartered the puffer" — Queebec
danced in excitement from one leg to the other — "He's
fair bate us. I kent he'd something up his sleeve; he
was that quate an' smilin'." The thing was so astonishing,
so tremendous to these men who never bought more
than twenty or thirty boxes at a time, that they could
only stare in silence. To have a store crammed with
stock; to have unlimited barrels of salt and have rented
the Square — all that was nothing; but to have chartered
a steamer! A dim conception of the bigness of this man
and of his audacity began to impregnate their minds.
He seemed no more than a boy, with his jovial red face
and lithe swinging walk; yet he caused their trafficking
in fish to appear to them a piece of shy, dawdling inefficiency.
This man in one morning suddenly became
gigantic, and these sparrows of Dothan saw that their
day of hopping on the Quay was done. There was nothing
to do but to retire from the shadow of an eagle.
"He'll hae the first o' the market the morn," wheezed
Queebec, who in a dull way felt angry with Andy.
"Boys-a-boys, but he'll hev' the haul." The ice-cream
vendor's mouth fairly watered.
"Every barrel 'ill be a pound in Manchester," cried
Queebec.
The stem of Andy's pipe snapped between his teeth.
He spat out the fragment and walking across the Quay
accosted the black-bearded mariner.
"Where are ye goin'?" he asked bluntly.
"Yattin'."
The witticism stung Andy.
"Ye damn big fool; ye'll no' get the price o' paint
for your rotten funnel oot o' Gillespa'." The black--
bearded man, who had a wad of notes in his hand — the
freight on the coal and the herring just paid by Gillespie
— estimated Andy. A guffaw over at the "Shipping Box"
caused a surge of dark-red blood to swamp his face; his
bull-dog neck began to swell; his dark eyes to blaze
beneath their bushy eyebrows.
"Ca' me a damn fool, div ye? me, Jock Borlan' o'
Govan. I'll salt your whisker for ye an' tek' it to Glesca
in a barrel for pickle pork, ye swine. See that" — he held
up the wad of notes— "a bit praisint frae Gillespie Strang
to my wife, by Jing!" Backhanded he swung the wad
hard across Andy's cheek.
"That's Jock Borlan's wy, by Jing!"
Andy danced in front of him, screaming with rage.
"Get oot o' my way" — the mariner threatened Andy
with the wad — "Wur ye ever at the thaieter? Whaur
are ye for, div ye say? I'm for the Langlands Road tae
tak' my wife to the thaieter the nicht." He walked
ponderously down upon Andy, stamping at the slippered
toes.
Andy leapt back, rubbing his cheek and screaming, "I'll
pey ye, ye big Glesca keelie. I'll pey ye back for this."
"Ye'll never pey like Gillespie Strang," cried the
bearded man, jocose again. "Gillespie Strang's pey" —
he tapped the wad with a thick forefinger — "My wife an'
me's gaun to the thaieter the nicht, by Jing!"
The eager song of the winch clanked over the Quay
as tier after tier of the boxes was being slung aboard. At
the same time the barrels were being rolled in on two
planks. In an hour and a half the puffer cleared, the
black-bearded sailorman roaring an invitation to Andy:
"Ir ye comin' to the thaieter the nicht?"
Punctually to the minute at noon on Saturday Gillespie
paid the fishermen in his shop.
"That's better than the big market, Sanny."
"Ay! you bate, Gillespa': a full hairbour wad be a
toom stomach for some o' us."
"Weel, boys," he said briskly, rubbing his hands; "I
hope I'll pay ye ten times as much next Setterday." In
this way Gillespie announced that buying would be a
permanent part of his business. He retired to his back--
shop and, seated at an aged black mahogany desk full of
pigeon holes, made up his "returns":
£ s. d.
1020 boxes 51 0 0
Freight Glasgow 25 0 0
" Liverpool 39 16 3
Salt 5 0 0
Total 120 16 3
His eyes had a profound look of regret. The Manchester
herring had been a test and a risk, but fortunately the
weather had been foul on the English coast. He had
had a telegram from Manchester — twenty-two shillings a
barrel. Yes! his eyes had a profound look of regret. He
ought to have sent all the stuff to the English market —
only it was a risk. He made his entry carefully:
£ s. d.
330 barrels @ 22s. 363 0 0
645 boxes @ 12s. 6d. 403 2 6
Balance £645 6s. 3d.
He chewed the end of the pen.
"Nane sae ill for a green hand;" he nodded, wiped
the pen, put it behind his ear, carefully put the ledger
away, and passed into the front shop, whistling softly
between his teeth. He put a sweet in his mouth, passed
to the door, and stood regarding the herring fleet, supine
in the calm over their anchors. He had prestige. He
had bowels of sympathy. He was the man of the town.
CHAPTER X
GILLESPIE'S coal-ree was large and flourishing; his places
stored from cellar to roof. He bought up all the old
iron in Brieston and the adjacent country, and had
Sandy the Fox on the road with a pony and cart two days
in the week collecting rags, hides, sheep-skins, rabbit--
skins. "See an' lift half a ton o' woollens this week,"
were his instructions to the Fox on a Monday morning.
These rags he obtained by barter, giving provisions from
his shop in exchange. On two other days of the week,
Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Fox went into the
country with tinned meats, cloth, boots, sewing material,
provisions, and bread. This Gillespie purchased in large
quantities from the bakers, demanding a reduction in
their retail price, or thirteen loaves to the dozen. For
such stuff he got in exchange in the country fresh eggs,
butter, cheese, and potatoes, which he exposed for sale
in the shop. The bread he also sold to the fishermen.
Nothing was too trivial for him. "Every mickle mak's
a muckle," was his latest saw. He noticed a child
kicking a piece of stale bread in the gutter; he chided the
bairn, and said to McKelvie the mason-contractor, who
was passing, "That doesna look lik' hungry Brieston."
He became the gates of the town. None could go out or
in except through him; and the town took offence at
Lonend, because of his unsleeping enmity. Lonend was
very sore, for having held Muirhead till the lease expired,
and having asked for a renewal, he was fobbed off for half
a year, and then given notice that a gentleman farmer was
taking the farm. Lonend, forced to sell his stock at a
lower figure than he had paid to Gillespie, was in retreat
at his own farm, brooding on revenge, and against a day
of reckoning had locked up the sheet of paper which
Gillespie and he had found tacked on to the door of
Muirhead farmhouse.
It was December, and the fishing season being on the
wane, Gillespie established his interests in new fields.
On a raw, louring day of sleet Sandy the Fox and Jeck
the Traiveller made a round of the town, leaving a rough
cheap card at each door. The card, printed on both
sides, agitated Brieston in its domestic nests, for it contained
a gallant invitation:
The Square,
Brieston.
Gillespie Strang begs to announce that he has
opened a Rag, Rope, and Metal Department.
And begs leave most respectfully to submit this
card for your consideration, as the demand for White
and Coloured Rags is more pressing than ever. He
will Buy and Collect Rags of every description, such
as old Dish-cloths, Velveteens, Sacking, Roping,
Sheep-Netting, Carpeting, Dusters, or any kind of
Rubbish made of Linen, Hemp, or Worsted; and
though rotten as tinder, and only a pound or half a
pound, look them up and bring them to Store No. IV
at the Quay. Please do not forget that every piece
of Rag helps to make a sheet of paper. Please to
look them out of your coal-holes and back-places.
All pieces of Rags that you have thrown to your
back doors or into your soil holes or middens, wet or
dry, clean or dirty, Linen or Woollen are wanted.
Be your own Friend and Pay Your Rent with Rags.
Please turn over.
Gillespie will buy and collect the above articles
in this vicinity on Monday mornings, and from the
country on Tuesdays and Thursdays by van at the
highest ready-money prices. He also buys Old
Coats, Waistcoats, Trousers, Gowns, Shawls, Night--
Dresses, Pyjamas, or any Ladies' or Gent.'s left-off
Wearing Apparel, Horse and Cow Hair, Old Ropes,
Old Brass, Brass Candlesticks, Old Warming-Pans,
Broken Spoons, Copper Kettles, Old Boilers, Metal
Tea-Pots, Stew-Pans, Old Lead and Pewter, Cast
and Wrought Iron, Metal, Copper, Old Carpets,
Hammer-heads, Broken Guns, etc., etc.
He will be thankful to all persons who will look
out the above articles, if only a handful. Gillespie
Strang will give the best price and pay Ready
Money.
Why have Middens when you can go to No. IV?
Furniture Bought, Sold, Hired, and Exchanged.
Best Prices given for Bones, Hare and Rabbit
Skins.
No connection whatever with Hawkers, Collectors,
or Jews.
Support Home Industries.
Business punctually attended to.
If Gillespie was a hero on the sea-front he reached the
zenith of admiration at the hearth of Brieston, where it
was conceived that in the bad winter times a gold-mine
was opened at Store No. IV for a little scavenging. He
was not a man, but a god, with his unlimited market,
his fountains of beatitude. Mary Bunch had nerve
at the Pump to utter discord. The card was in her
hand.
"Dae ye ken what Mrs. Galbraith said? Sez she
It's the badge o' your shame.'"
"What's the badge o' your shame mean?" asked Black
Jean, frowning.
"It means Gillespa's a fair bloodsucker; he'll sook
the toon dry."
"Ach! wheest, Mary." Nan at Jock took her hand
from beneath her apron and flaunted it in Mary Bunch's
face.
"'Deed he will," continued Mary Bunch, ardently.
"He's gettin' the big man noo, but I mind the day he
opened the wee shop in the Back Street when he left
Muirheid" — Gillespie took these temporary premises
for some six months, till the house and shop in the Square
were ready for him — "Losh! but he was the fly ane;
he took thon shop in the old tiled hoose, for it had a
lum ye could stand on when it was cold. When there
was a big divide among the men on the Setterdays he
wad stan' on the lum, watchin' the weemin goin' tae the
shops doon in the front street; then he'd come doon off
the lum an' kep them, an' get his debt oot o' them afore
they'd a chance to get home." Her small dark head
was nodding vigorously; her face flushed; her eyes
bright like a bird's. "An' that wasna the only reason
he had. It was awa' back frae the road to the Kirk.
A bonny deacon him! Oh! but he had the gran' tred
there on Sundays. It began wi' Floracs at Rob the
Solan" (Flora, wife of Rob, nicknamed the Solan). "They
said she was a witch. Hooivir, she cam' wan Sunday wi'
a five-poun' noat — ye mind, there was a big fishin' in the
Kyles. She'd a dram on the Setterday, an' took sixteen
shullin's worth on the Sunday night. They cairrit three
dozen o' ginger beer an' a whup o' pastry an' stuff ower
to the Bairracks in a spale-basket." The Barracks sat
tall and unlovely on the north road, where some of the
Government men, who watched for the trawlers, had
lodged. "An' what div ye think he did? 'Floracs, my
wumman,' sez he, 'I canna change that muckle money
for ye on a Sunday.'
"'I'll get the change the morn,' sez Floracs.
"'Floracs,' sez he, 'there'll no pr'aps be another big
fishin' for a whilie that'll ye hae five-pun' notes handy.'
"'Ay! that's true.'
"'Weel,' sez he, 'my wy o't wad be this. Just leave the
money wi' me an' ye can tak' a run ower on Sundays for
your ginger beer, till the money's feeneshed. It'll last
ye langer that wy, Sunday money, than breakin' it up
intae siller change. Ye ken hoo change slips awa' through
your fingers.'
"Floracs said she wasna sae sure.
"'Weel, this is the wy I look at it. If ye leave your
money wi' me it's as safe as the bank; and on Sunday
evenin' ye can slip oot withoot reingin' through the
bowls in the dresser for't. That wad only mak' the
Solan suspeecious; but this wy he'll never notiss. Dae
ye see?' An' that's the wy Gillespie took to dale wi'
weemin on the sly. Auld Strang cam' to hear o't, an'
him an' Gillespie had words ower the heid o't. Auld
Strang wad be doon on his knees in the 'Ghost' prayin'
for his son. An' wan Sunday evening he drapped in
instead o' goin' to the meetin', an' there was Gillespie
an' Floracs at Rob the Solan hevin' a noise. The auld
fella heard it a' frae the kitchen. Ye ken' the wy Gillespie
did? He wadna open the shop door, but gied up a laidder,
an' cut a hole in the loft above the shop an' went doon
intae the shop by another laidder. An' there was the
twa o' them argle-bargling awa'. Floracs cam' for a dozen
o' ginger beer an' a dozen o' pastry for a wee tea-pairty
on the Monday when her man wad be oot at the fishin'.
"'Ye'll hae to pay this time, Floracs; your money's
done.'
"'Guidsakes! done already?'
"'It's a' that.'
"An' then Floracs ca'd him for a' the thiefs an blaig.
garts frae here to Jonnie Groats, an' said she'd never put
her fut inside his door again, an' wad expose his ongoin's.'
"'Dinna be sae hasty, Floracs; I dinna want to expose
ye or any dacent wumman. Ye ken hoo it wad be if I
cheep'd. Your man wadna be pleased to hear o' your
tea-pairties wi' a' the Bairricks weemin when he's awa
at the fishin'.' An' clare tae Goäd Floracs got a wild
fright an' began tae trummel in her shoes. That's the
wy he got a grup o' them. It wusna shullin's he wanted
but soävrins an' half-soävrins, an' neither wan nor anuther
kent when the money was done, but himsel'. He made
more on a Sunday than the other shopkeepers made a
the week."
"An' what o' auld Strang?" Nan at Jock's voice piped
eagerly.
"Weel! naebody kens the oots an' ins o' that; but
there he was standin' in the kitchen when Gillespie cam'
doon the laidder wi' Floracs. She was that frichted she
bolted. There was a big noise between faither an' son.
Some say that auld Strang lifted his staff on Gillespie
an' some had it that Gillespie caught the auld man by
the throat an' threw him on the bed. From that day
till this Gillespie never showed face inside the 'Ghost'.'
"Ay," said Lucky, when the breathless narrative came
to an end, "that was aye Gillespie's wy, makin' money a
the time, since he was a boy at the school."
"Onyway," said Mary Bunch, crisply, "there's noathin
good comes oot o' what Gillespie does. If ye just heard
the curse Nanny at Baldy Murray put on his weddin'."
"I never h'ard," answered Nan at Jock for the others
"Weel! weel!" — Mary Bunch's eyes were full of
astonishment at such ignorance — "the night they were
mairrit, but we'd the spree at Lonen'."
"Hoo were you there, Mary?" asked Lucky.
"Och! wheest, did I no' ca' on the bereavit when
Galbraith slippit awa', an' Morag an' Gillespie was there?"
She hesitated a moment. "Where was I? Ou! ay!
but that was the jolly night. What a dose o' roasted
hens on the table. Ye'd think ye were in a hen-hoose
that gied on fire. Aunty Nanny, Aunty Kate, Aunty
Mary, Jamaics Black an' my own faither were at the
wee watchmaker's dancin'-school; an' och! but my
faither was the dancer. He danced at the fushin' in the
north through Skye on his stockin'-soles wi' the spree
wi' Jamaics Black's faither. An' och! och! but he was
the braw man, Jamaics. There wasna a better trump
player in Argyllshire, an' he coorted Nanny Lang afore
she took the sma'-pox an' lost the wan eye wi't, an' he
said he'd tek' her though she was as blin' as a bat. Och!
och! but that was the nicht. Weel, they say that Alastair
Murray was talkin' aboot it tae himsel' in the church the
next Sunday a' the time the minister was preachin'.
Ye ken he went wrong in the mind, an' they had tae tek'
him away tae the asylum up at Bannerie. Fine I mind
the day. It was a Sunday, too — the Sunday Big Finla's
wife had a waen. I mind afore they took him awa' his
mother came tae me an' sez she, 'Are ye puttin' any
odds on Alastair?'
"'Nanny,' I sez, 'I put an odds on him. I aye hear
him on the road lecterin' awa' tae hissel': an' he's aye
goin' up tae the graveyaird.' 'Weel,' sez she, 'it was
Gillespie's weddin' began it on my poor Alastair. He got
a crack on the heid, an' hesna been richt since. But mind
what I'm tellin' you, Mary Bunch, my poor Alastair's
no the only wan that'll go off his heid wi' Gillespie,
whoever 'ill leeve tae see't' — She streitched oot her
twa hands — 'The duvvil in hell,' sez she, 'was at thon
weddin'.'
"'Wheest! wheest! Nanny,' I sez; 'dinna speak
lik' that.'
"'No! I'll no' wheest; just you wait. The curse
that's on my Alastair 'ill be on him!' I catchit her by
the airm.
"'Dinna you curse him, Nanny, leave that tae the
Almighty.'
"Weel, that brought her tae her senses.
"'I'll say nae mair, Mary. My Alastair's tae be taen
away come Sunday wi' Doctor Maclean. I hope tae Goäd
I'll be deid afore then.'"
There was silence at the Pump. Something sinister
and terrible seemed to brood over Gillespie and the
opulence of Store No. IV.
"Dae ye believe, Mary, it was the spree at Lonen'
that put Alastair off his head?" asked Black Jean in a
low voice.
"Goäd kens," answered Mary Bunch; "but if anything
comes ower Gillespie or his faimly, I'll mind o' Nanny's
words."
She wrapped her shawl about her neck, and leaned a
little to one side, ready to sheer off through the gathering
night. "Goäd alone kens the wy things happen in this
world."
The sound of their scurrying feet went down the
cobbled road. At the foot of the Pump, one of Gillespie's
advertisement cards was lying. Drip! drip! drip! the
water fell on it, softening it, crumpling it, obliterating the
writing of its gospel of commerce.
CHAPTER XI
A STURDY, thick-set female figure walked slowly up
the cart-road to Lonend. The head was alert, proudly
poised, the dilated nostrils were eagerly drinking in deep
gulps of the fragrance of the fields. It was Mrs. Galbraith,
who had come to ask Lonend to be allowed to work
at the harvest. He turned a shamefast face upon her.
"It's no' work for the likes o' you, Margaret."
"It's not for the money I want to work. I must live
on a farm now and again or I'll go mad."
"Come as often as ye like an' welcome," he said eagerly,
his face lightening.
"Thank you, Mr. Logan. I should like to stay for
to-day and go just where I like."
She passed through a back gate, walked along a dike
side, crossed at the top of a potato field, passed through
another gate, and came on the harvesters. At the sight
her step became light; her body swung free and rhythmically;
her face was transfigured. It was a cloudless
autumn day. The hush of fading things, of leaves dropping
silently, lingered on the dew-drenched trees. The
long valley below, in which lay Brieston, was grey with
mist, and suggested a lake of amethyst, with here and
there a lance of gold sinking into the soft billows. Light
flooded the sky and drenched the earth. The wide
sweeping view accentuated the curves of the country;
and the light toned down its edges. The hills rose in
yellowing slopes beyond Muirhead to the sky with wavering
fires on their face. The slopes, billowing one into
the other, appeared as if lifted by a mighty wind and
arrested when their crests were about to break. Beyond
all was high Beinn an Oir, assailing to the eye, towering
up like something supernatural.
The plum-like bloom of autumn was mellow on the
fields. A riot of bracken flamed on the hem of the wood
beyond, diamonds of dew hung on every bell of the
heather; the hedges were ablaze with hips and haws;
where the sun slanted through the leaves they looked like
yellow flame; and overhead the sky was a blue lake of
light. Dark bars of cloud in the south-west completed
the image. They were fantastically shaped islands
asleep in that vast hyacinth sea.
The reaping had been finished two days ago. The
stooks were standing up like old bearded men. Mrs.
Galbraith sat in the shadow of the wood gazing on the busy
field. There was no sense here of life being an hostage
to hard and wearisome labour, and the fruit of harvest
depending on the many imperilling chances of the weather.
The hopes that had been sown and ploughed into the
ground in spring were realised, and the fears that attended
the spring frosts and summer drought were at an end
It is an open-handed time, with an air of plenty encompassing
fields alive with merry folk. There is no work
on earth like harvest-work. It is a Bacchic time of song.
The wine stands up to the bridles of the horses. And
there is no time when master and servants mingle so
much together in fellowship as at this sacrament of
bounty.
"Dear God," she murmured, "it is good to be alive."
None knows what freedom is like the man who, released
from prison, stands without drinking great gulps of God's
clean air, as he lets his sick eye rove over hill and field.
Mrs. Galbraith felt this enlargement of life as she watched
a group of children. The strenuous labour of ploughing
sowing, and harrowing is for men alone. The harvest
is the children's hour. She watched them trot and
gambol about, rosy as scarlet autumn flowers, and very
much excited, as they rivalled each other in dragging
the largest sheaves to the carts. The women chattered
because they must, and, flushed and happy, shared each
other's joy. In no hour do they know less of self. Mrs.
Galbraith wandered among them, speaking a word to
each, and was surprised at the respect they showed her.
Lonend quietly joined her. It was a good harvest. He
hoped she would come to the harvest home on next
Wednesday; but she shook her head, smiling. "I do
not care for these things, I prefer being here." Lonend
knew from her tone and her smile that in some way he
was forgiven.
Mrs. Galbraith crossed over to the carts where the
men were at work. They saluted her, acknowledging her
grave dignity where she stood stroking the glossy neck
of the brown Clydesdale. The men worked with silent
perseverance, tasting a slower joy than the children, a
calmer pleasure than the women. Looking at their
tanned faces and simple, incurious eyes she learned
again the wisdom that is in healthful labour, and remembered
the orare ac laborare of the monks. The
very appearance of these men spoke to her of the deep,
quiet things of earth. Their brown hands were stained
with earth's very juice; ears of corn were in their hair
and their beards and clung to their shirt sleeves. She
felt the indescribable savour of the soil, sharp almost to
an edge of pain, and the physical effects of its colour and
scent pass into a realm of mystery, where that which is
visible and tangible melts into a suggestion of something
profound, baffling, haunting, which emanates from the
bosom of mother earth. She turned away with a glorified
face and joined the children.
She had eaten of Lonend's bread, and asked leave to
take with her a bouquet of flowers when she went home.
He turned in the direction of his garden, behind the
farmhouse, but she checked him with a slight gesture of
her hand.
"I wish to remain," she said, "till I see the lights
come out in Brieston. If I may I will get the flowers
then by myself."
The last sheaf was in the cart which rumbled across
the field. The hush of twilight, of things that have been
wrought with and are for ever finished, stole across the
bare upland still heavy with fragrance. A few yellow
leaves lay among the pale-gold of the stubble, whispering
like ghosts in every eddy of the breeze. Rooks and
starlings were busy gleaning, and as Mrs. Galbraith
walked in the field, their black cloud rose with a tumultuous
whirring of wings, and passing in thunder over her
head, left her alone with that calm sanctification of
evening in which there is nothing of man or of his works.
The window of Muirhead, far off on the brae above the
sea, turned to liquid conflagration as it caught the long level
rays of the setting sun, and flamed in crimson fire. She
watched the glow fade and pass as greyness crept down
from Beinn an Oir. The trees around became spectres. A
ghostly sibillation stirred in the dimness of the whispering
wood where the chill wind stirred the leaves.
Sphinx-like, she stood regarding the field, which had a
look of youth on its shorn face. It was beautiful and yet
very sad, a marred face the sight of which, in the soft
crepuscular light, provoked her to tears. "I am always
destined," she thought sadly, "to be left alone in the
stubble." Silence reigned through the sober hues; it
was the solemn hour in which to be alone with broken
hopes, with perished illusions, and fallen dreams. "And
yet — and yet," she thought, "from this day that has been
given me I can fashion fresh dreams and build up new
hopes which may serve, in some measure, to relieve the
gloomy background of coming winter, and light their
candles in the darkness of life's inevitable vicissitudes."
Happiness is not altogether vanished when unregretting
memory can recall a golden hour of sorcery and colour,
of mirth and magic; when it can send us into old valleys
of light, and re-create a blue sky and a shining happy field.
So simple it is to enter our Holy Land.
She sighed deeply as she turned towards the gate, for
she was quitting the best that life held for her. As she
gained a little crest, she saw the lights of Brieston shine
around the bay, and long spears of gold search into the
blue darkness of the harbour. Quietly she culled her
flowers, and moved away down the cart-road. The
figure of a man stood at the gate of Lonend in the shadow
of a hawthorn hedge. He was watching his angelic guest
pass on into the night beneath the faintly breaking stars
— a guest who had left behind a sense of pardon and peace,
and a deep desire for revenge.
CHAPTER XII
MRS. GALBRAITH'S room was skilfully arranged in a
harmony of colour and foliage — blood-red rowan leaves,
hips and haws, flaming gladioli, copper chrysanthemums,
scarlet nasturtiums — a sensuous room of blood and wine;
flowers and foliage which had gushed up from the heart
of the earth in a blazonry of passion, in the blood of the
martyrs. The frame of the portrait of a girl, over the
mantelpiece, with a dark, oval face of honey — heavy
languor, and eyes half-veiled beneath dark, heavy eyelids,
was wreathed in the blood of virginia creeper.
Mrs. Strang, who had been invited to tea, came a little
late. She was wearing a sealskin jacket, and her fingers
were loaded with rings. From a thin gold chain round
her neck hung a cameo set in gold. Mrs. Galbraith
cast a piercing look out of her dark eyes on Mrs. Strang,
who stood sniffing the heavy fragrance, and greedily
drinking in the colour and the splendour with an amazed
look.
"I have no longer a farm, Morag," she spoke with
a grave, sweet air; "but the forests are here and the
moor;" she touched a piece of purple heather in a china
bowl on the mantelpiece. "I only need moss on the
floor, and a hawk crying over the roof."
Mrs. Strang gazed pathetically at this image of her
old life at Lonend. The subtle influence of the morning
heather, wet with dew, the cool nooks of moss, the green
patches of sward, the wealth of bracken, and bars of
colour across the sky, were revived in her being. Her
old gay, careless life at Lonend floated up in an enchanting
mirage before her eyes, and she experienced a sense
of pain and of loss. There was a sudden inspiration in
the floral wreath of the room which saddened her. A
reaction from her barren, penurious life of coal-dust
and salt herring came upon her with intolerable force
and pathos. Her eyes were as the eyes of a hungry,
timid beast, stealing out of a wood. She saw in the glowing
heather the seductive hopes that never had been
fulfilled. She remembered her struggles growing fainter
and fainter against a man of granite, on behalf of the
unwearied passion which drove her from Lonend. Once
she had imagined this passion to be inexhaustible, and
that her life would burn eternal incense at its shrine.
In the heart of these flowers she saw her secret raptures,
her unspoken hopes, the aspirations whose flame lit the
sordidness of her early married life. She felt exhausted
in the midst of this riot of colour, and the despair attendant
on unfulfilled hopes attacked her. Her hands hung
loosely; vexations and rebellion swept over her, surging
and ebbing, and leaving her utterly dispirited and wearied
of existence. She was in that state of mind in which
anything that may lend colour to life is grasped.
"Dear me," she said; "how bonnie it is! Oh,
Margaret! I wish I was back at Lonend."
"I was there yesterday."
The simple statement appeared to petrify Mrs. Strang,
who felt herself an outcast in an unknown country.
"Yesterday? What were you doing there?"
"They were leading-in. I went to see them. It's
so beautiful and full of God." Mrs. Galbraith spoke
in a subdued voice.
"I never go anywhere now." Mrs. Strang's face was
like a mask. She looked vacantly round the room, and
her gaze rested on a square wooden box, on a small
table at the window. On one side of it was the figure
of a dragon, on the other three sides the wood was unstained,
showing that the poker-drawing was the work
of Mrs. Galbraith. "An' I never do anything."
Mrs. Galbraith picked up the box. "I learned
marquetry and poker-work at the Normal College. It is
astonishing how the very smallest thing that we learn
becomes of service to us," she said. "We are creatures
made to conquer and beautify things." She then showed
Mrs. Strang some crochet-work, a bedspread, which she
was making to the order of the Laird's mother, for which
she was to get twelve pounds when it was finished.
"I do it partly for a living and partly to divert my
thoughts. I have no other manual work to do now.
This is where I find men have resources which we are
deprived of. For the vexations of life they find a solace
in business, while women are often left with their
thoughts."
Mrs. Strang felt the truth of this. "Yes," she said
wearily; "I sit all day looking at the fire."
Mrs. Galbraith smiled contemptuously. "I should
go mad if I did that. I must keep grief at bay with my
needle. The very fact that I have to preserve a watchful
eye and a steady hand soothes my mind. I cannot give
rein to the passion which consumes me while I am
crocheting."
"What passion?" asked Mrs. Strang, with a kindling
interest.
"Vengeance."
The word came like a gust; and a sudden fear of this
proud, self-reliant woman gripped Mrs. Strang's heart.
She herself was incapable of vengeance, the very thought
of which terrified her hapless soul. Dark rings became
visible beneath her large eyes, her face paled and her
breathing quickened.
"Vengeance," she whispered; "what for?"
"For the treachery which drove me from my home.
I felt it keenly yesterday." Sparks glowed in her dark
eyes, like phosphorous in a night-sea. Mrs. Strang
lifted a scared face. Her father, her husband, were
threatened by this daring woman who was capable of
anything. Mrs. Strang foretasted some horrible disaster,
trembled before some irremediable misfortune. Her
face flushed and paled; she was stifling, and felt herself
giddy. An arm went about her waist with tender
firmness, and drew her to a chair, from which she could
only gasp "Margaret." Her bonnet was taken off;
the cold edge of a tumbler was held to her chattering
teeth as she laid her head back on the chair. Her face
was like clay, and twitched in a nervous spasm; her hair
a little disordered; beads of sweat oozed out on her
forehead. She opened her eyes, beseeching peace and
safety.
"Margaret," she whispered, "what a fright I got."
"Hush, Morag! don't think any more of what I said.
I forgot myself. There, get off your jacket. We'll have
tea, and then you'll be better." The slim neck was
stretched out on the back of the chair, and the eyes
closed. Mrs. Galbraith gazed down at her.
"There are two of us burning at a slow fire," she
thought, as she turned to the table and made the room
glad with the tinkle of cups and saucers.
At tea, Mrs. Galbraith gave an account of her visit
to Lonend, and spoke warmly of the kindness of Mr.
Logan. Mrs. Strang, relieved and happy, imagined that
the vengeance spoken of meant nothing after all.
"You ought to visit Lonend, it is at its best just now."
Mrs. Galbraith spoke with her accustomed air of decisiveness
and authority.
Mrs. Strang's face became tearful.
"Gillespie wouldn't like it."
"You're a fool, Morag. You are suffering slow murder
for a man who takes no notice of you." She spoke in
a tone of acid irony, which would certainly have become
insolent in Gillespie's presence. She began to knead
the clay of Mrs. Strang's life. "He is pleasant to every
one in Brieston but you." She poured forth the thoughts
of long evenings at the lonely fireside — brooding which
had gone far to spoil her fine nature. She had neglected
her Imitation and her In Memoriam, and with the
image of a murdered husband and a ruined home constantly
before her had become cold, calculating — a machine
of steel, constantly running. It was all poured out now
in a jumble of invective, cunning, and pseudo-sympathy
with Mrs. Strang, whose life, she said, was too solitary;
the greed of her husband was blighting her nature. That
dark, impenetrable man, Gillespie, who had no affinity
of character, was freezing her life. Yesterday for Mrs.
Strang was anguish; to-day, agony; and to-morrow
would be torment, so long as she suffered herself to lie
in silence beneath the thorns from which he alone culled
the rose. Mrs. Strang, incapable of asking how Mrs.
Galbraith became acquainted with these intimate facts,
only understood the drift of denunciation, and saw
herself a foolish, downtrodden creature, whom this superb
woman advised to go her own way and live her own life,
and leave Gillespie and his squabbles to look after themselves.
Was she not a sad, loveless soul, drained of
every pleasure which life had to offer? Every one had
a festival at some time or another, and facilities for
enjoying it, but she alone of all Brieston, the wife of one
of its richest men, lived a grey and cloudy existence.
What, perhaps, had greater effect on Mrs. Strang than
anything else, was Mrs. Galbraith's advice to her to give
over her tacit renunciation. She was sacrificing herself
for one who was neither impressed nor grateful. Why
did she fear him? An outbreak would not suit him now
that his business was growing, and he was trying to curry
favour with the country gentry. The very echo of
quarrelling would injure his business, because the town
regarded him as a hero and benefactor, and he could not
afford to have the skeleton in his cupboard exposed. He
would give blackmail rather to satisfy her whims. She
could have the whip-hand over him. This cold, merciless
logic sank into Mrs. Strang's mind, as she listened
with greedy ear to the stupendous Margaret. Yes!
she had nothing to fear; Gillespie's line was quietism,
suavity. Did they not call him "souple Gillespie"? He
would have to keep up the rôle; and Mrs. Strang could
pursue her life with impunity. Gillespie's wife, fascinated
by this masterly plan of campaign, felt herself lifted up
and shaking the doors of secret, darling dreams. Her
flesh grew warm and her spirits ardent under the dark,
glowing eyes of this liberator, who she imagined was a
woman of mystery, of daring and romance. She sniffed
the heavy, sensuous odour of the flowers, and felt a new
flow and torrent of life for the first time since Eoghan
was born. Her limbs were no longer leaden, or her
eyes bleached with staring at the kitchen fire.
"Yes, Morag, all the penalty you are paying is for
your foolish acquiescence. Gillespie is intolerable. Even
Mrs. Tosh speaks of you as a hermit. 'She's become
quite a hermit, really,' and you know where she got
that, from the minister's sister. Don't you remember
how you used to walk out in the evenings at Lonend?
You never walk out now. You are a woman no longer;
you are a victim."
Mrs. Strang, cypher of silent patience, had not the
intellect to combat such specious argument, but greedily
accepted the word of inducement which is sufficient to
make a weak woman walk in the path toward which she
is hungering. "He is making you contemptible before
the whole town." Mrs. Galbraith drew a sombre picture
of a future of dark brooding taciturnity on Mrs. Strang's
part, and monstrous neglect on his. He would not even
give her clothes. Mrs. Strang remembered she had had
none since their wedding, and decided that to-morrow
she would order some from Mrs. Tosh. There would be
ceaseless complainings over trifles, constant domestic
discontent; her children would be alienated; she would
not have even the dignity of a sphinx in her misfortunes,
but would become a mummy. The creepers and weeds
of existence would in such a lethargy stifle her life,
till she would be powerless, and have neither the strength
nor the resolution to ward off the pestering flies of
circumstance.
The level rays of sunset streamed in on the flowers
and foliage, and burned in pools of fire on the jewels on
her fingers. The glory touched her face; the inner
glow had ebbed from her body, leaving her sunk in
dejection. Her head fell forward in abandon as she
thought of her forlorn future — an animal that has long
been coursed by hounds. She was hopelessly incompetent
to wrestle with the problem of her fate; being a frail,
rudderless boat, tossed about on a dark night on a stormy
sea. Yet one star burned brightly in the dark — she
could take things in her own hands, and her husband,
afraid of ruining his business, would be powerless to
deny her. Neither Margaret nor she was aware that
Gillespie would treat such conduct quite in another
fashion — as he actually did treat it — by posing as a
martyr, and out of his wife's errors gaining the capital
of sympathy.
The setting light stung her eyes, and she bowed her
head. "Out of all the days of your life, are you never
to have one or two you can call your own?" said Mrs.
Galbraith, rising and lifting a decanter from the dresser.
"Topsail Janet told me to have in a dram for you," she
smiled faintly; "but perhaps you're afraid Gillespie will
know."
There was profound silence in the room. A leaf
detached itself from a branch over Mrs. Strang's head,
and fluttered down into her lap. She looked up with
the blood-red leaf in her fingers.
"Thank you, Margaret," she answered, half sobbing,
and took the tumbler in a trembling hand. Mrs. Galbraith
watched with relentless eye. She felt herself begun on
the task of sapping the foundations of the house of
Gillespie Strang, murderer and benefactor of Brieston.
As Topsail Janet put her to bed that night her mistress
babbled incoherently of a new dress from Mrs. Tosh,
and of the bit of heather from Lonend, which Topsail
had found awry in the button-hole of the sealskin jacket.
CHAPTER XIII
A CHANGE apparent to all had come over Mrs. Strang.
She visited. Every afternoon it was fine she went,
dressed in her sealskin jacket and wearing her rings, and
gold chain about her neck, to Lonend. Her health
rapidly improved; her colour returned; she lost her
thin, dry appearance; the magnificent coil of her hair
became glossy, its raven darkness standing out against
her white linen collar. Lonend, professedly glad to see
her, engaged her in conversation about Mrs. Galbraith.
"She's a thoroughbred an' no mistake," said Lonend.
"I believe, father, you and she will make a match
yet." Mrs. Strang's laugh had a girlish ring.
An idea which he could not express had for some time
troubled Lonend, and he was amazed at its revelation
by his daughter, whose face he keenly scrutinised.
"Hoots, lassie! I might dae waur." From that hour
Lonend had a new interest in life.
Two things befell Mrs. Strang on these expeditions.
On returning from Lonend on her second visit, she put
in at Mrs. Tosh's Emporium. That little, withered,
spectacled woman got into a flutter; and when Mrs.
Strang ordered a new dress and jacket, a new hat and
gloves, she fawned upon the wife of the great Gillespie.
Mrs. Strang, having tasted the sweets of power, walked
home treading the air, and waited in impatience till the
clothes were ready. Topsail demanded to be allowed
to open the parcel, and at sight of the raiment fell into
an ecstasy of admiration, insisted on Mrs. Strang undressing
forthwith, and proceeded to clothe her in the
new garments. She walked round her mistress, crooning
her, patting her, open-mouthed with wonder and pleasure.
"Ye're a rale leddy noo," she exclaimed. "Gillespie
'ill tek' a second notion o' ye." Topsail herself was in
coarse rags.
They were disappointed that on the next day grey
sheets of rain swept across the Square. Mrs. Strang,
however, did not sit gazing into the fire. "Janet," she
said, "slip away down to Brodie's and get a bottle of
whisky."
Topsail's rosy face was full of perplexity.
"There's nae money," she said.
"Never mind the money; tell Brodie to put it to
Mr. Strang's account."
Topsail, thinking of the unexpected splendour of the
new clothes, and that things came for the asking in
the magical name of Gillespie, set out, and when she
returned was rosier than ever and hilarious.
"What a drookin'" — she took off her shawl and shook
it — "there's no even a spug left in the streets."
"Did you get the whisky?" asked her mistress.
"Ay, you bate!" said Topsail in glee, and not yet
out of astonishment at the potency of the name Gillespie.
"I could get the hale toon for the axin'."
The next day was grey and windless, and late in the
afternoon Mrs. Strang set out for Lonend, dressed in her
new clothes.
"A' ye need noo," said Topsail, at the head of the
stair, "is a muff. A' the leddies cairry them."
Mrs. Strang entered the Emporium on her way, and
asking for a muff, consulted jumpy Mrs. Tosh.
"Black will suit you best," said that lady; "black
fox is worn just now."
The fact is that black fox furs were never seen within
the Emporium; but a niece of Mr. Kennedy, the schoolmaster,
who was living in Edinburgh, was to be married
in November, and he, preparing a charming wedding
gift, had ordered through Mrs. Tosh a few sets of expensive
furs, one of which he had chosen. The others were still
with Mrs. Tosh, and about to be returned to Messrs.
Stewart & Macdonald, Glasgow.
She led Mrs. Strang into her sanctum, in front of a long
panel mirror set in a thin black frame, attached to one
of the walls. The remaining part of the walls was covered
with fashion-plates of tall, elegant ladies. Mrs. Tosh
undid a large cardboard box, withdrew a fur boa, and with
prim mouth and demure face of importance, hung it
caressingly over Mrs. Strang's shoulders. Head to the
side, like a bird, she glanced at the effect, hopping about.
Mrs. Strang smiled rapturously at her image in the mirror.
"You suit black fox, my dear; it makes you so
elegant, really." She returned to the cardboard box
and withdrew a muff, which she gave to Mrs. Strang.
"Really, you do look sweet, Mrs. Strang. Every one
will be quite jealous." Mrs. Strang, in this odour of
flattery and furs, felt that she lived as she examined
herself in the mirror. The effect was electrical. Buried
in black shining fur, she seemed taller, more beautiful;
her face flushed with health, her eyes sparkling, and the
gold chain across the fur like a thread of fire.
"I think I'll just keep them on," she said, in a cooing
voice; "they're lovely."
"You do look a picture, dear, really." Mrs. Tosh
trotted after her into the front shop, arranging the furs.
"Keep the fox-heads that way, so as to be seen; there
now."
Mrs. Strang, with a fast-beating heart, went out into
the timid sunshine, and took the road to Lonend. She
had not inquired about the price of the furs. That was
Gillespie's business.
CHAPTER XIV
THE road to Lonend was full of interest, having many
happy twists and turnings. Mrs. Strang was walking
fast, her heart beating as quickly, for she was anticipating
her father's verdict on her appearance. At a sudden
bend she came on a man who was looking through an
opening between two rowan trees in the direction of
West Brieston Loch, which lay, an eye of silver, beneath
the tawny hills. His back was to her, and he leaned
upon a walking-stick. Except Dr. Maclean, no one in
these parts carried a walking-stick. In his right hand
he held a pair of grey gloves. As Mrs. Strang came near
he turned quickly round. She saw a look of surprised
pleasure swiftly cross his face, and felt touched by the
unpremeditated homage. He raised his hat, and bowing
said
"Am I by any chance on the right road to Lonend?"
Mrs. Strang was confused; should she say yes, and
pass on?
"It's my father's farm," she stammered, and then
blushed, feeling her answer to be stupid.
A quick, glad look leapt into the stranger's eyes.
"Ah!" he said; "you are perhaps on your road
there?"
"Yes," she replied, putting her muff up to her burning
cheek.
"May I be allowed to have the pleasure of accompanying
you?" He gave a slight, deferential incline of his
head forward.
"It's not very far." Her heart was beating so loudly
she was sure he must hear it; but if he did, he made no
sign. A strange exhilaration possessed her. She was
glad she wore her furs. She had never walked with a man
for years. She kept her eyes on the ground, and saw
that he wore tan shoes — his trousers were turned up
over them — and brown socks.
When he spoke again she was startled.
"Do you think Mr. Logan will take in a boarder?"
She glanced up at him. He had a clear-skinned,
dark, clean-shaven face, and thick glossy dark hair.
He seemed in age little more than a boy. He met her
glance with a smile.
"I — I'm not sure; we never had boarders." She
furiously hoped that her father would take him in.
"Oh, it's all right!" He flung his head up, and took
a bigger stride. "I'd prefer to live out of town; that's
why I've come to Lonend. I'm the new schoolmaster."
Mrs. Strang felt radiant at this confidence.
"I — I think father won't object."
"Ah!" he said, tossing his head, as a horse tosses its
mane; "if I had you for my advocate, there would be
no question about it."
Mr. Mowbray Campbell Rees Campion had been
destined for the ministry of the Church of Scotland. His
father, an Englishman, was in the cotton business of
Manchester, and had taken to wife a woman of the
Scottish hills, who desired to have a son in the Church.
He was entered at Glasgow University, and proved
himself an erratic, brilliant man, devoted to a fastidious
course of reading. He soon discovered that to be a prize--
man was to be a sponge. Soak in the lectures of the
professor, pour them out on the examination book, and
lo! you figured on the "distinguished list." "The
yellow-backed examination book is jaundiced," he said
"with the ill-digested ideas of the professors, which the
men who aim at lucrative posts in the professions splash
in ink across its pages. It is all splash." He developed,
as he said, "a fine taste for the wines of France," and took
a degree with honours in English, because he fell under
the spell of a tall, lank, stooping, dark-grey man with an
eagle face, who made Shakespeare and the Elizabethans
live and palpitate. Mr. Campion was a man destined
for a career, if only he would apply himself; but with
a reputation for force, fire, and originality in Union debates,
he drifted into the Divinity Hall to idle. Alas!
he found there neither the searching brilliance of the
eagle-faced man nor his broad, tolerant humanity, but
an atmosphere of parchments and portraits of Scottish
divines upon the walls. The professor of divinity was
droning, "We were discussing Schleiermacher yesterday,"
when Mr. Campion had a vision of a Man being led along
a scorching road under a biting tree, one end of which
was on the shoulder of a slave, mad with fear. A jeering
mob surged about the Man. The slave, a negro out of
Cyrenaica, glanced with bloodshot eyes for a chance of
escape from his maddened and maddening tormentors.
The figure in front walked on, His pitying face to the
skies.
"Schleiermacher, gentlemen, we saw, strove to do
justice to the claims of both science and religion."
Mowbray C. R. Campion suffered agony of mind.
At the close of the lecture he noticed the vicious snap with
which the students closed their note-books, and went
out and devoted himself to the wines of France.
The saintly professor of Church history, to whose
charge he had been given from Manchester, walked with
him for an hour and a half the following day in the
Botanic Gardens. He accused Mr. Campion of nothing,
but said that Saint Augustine, after spending a riotous
youth, had enriched the world. Mowbray Campion
was penitent; but he knew he was not destined for the
Church. He left the Divinity Hall and its dull portraits
of George Buchanan and Calvin, sick at heart of its futile,
insipid life, which all spelled a "living." "The last
place in Scotland where you will find the Cross so much
as mentioned is in the Divinity Hall," was his farewell
judgment.
Through the astonishing romance of life he came into
contact with the Receiver of Wrecks of the "Anchor
Hotel," who, unable to get rid of ancient, tottering Mr.
Kennedy, had proposed the subtle plan to his colleagues on
the Board of leaving the elementary department in the
hands of the old teacher, and advertising for "a really
good man, who will be up-to-date, from the University,"
to take charge of the Secondary Department, for which
a two-storey building was nearing completion. Mr. Stuart,
the minister, advised getting an honours-man; the Receiver
of Wrecks acquiesced, without the least knowledge
of who or what an honours-man might be. After some
squabbling, the salary was fixed at one hundred and forty
pounds a year, and Mr. Campion appointed.
"I'll do what I can," Mrs. Strang replied. She felt
the flash of admiration in his eyes, and was sorry when,
immediately, they came in sight of the crazy, wooden
gate leading into the yard. They found Lonend
superintending the building of a cornstack.
"This is my father," said Mrs. Strang, and hurried
into the house.
Mr. Campion began to talk eagerly about the farm
and the harvest, walking about everywhere, and asking
innumerable questions. He had a curious, restless mind.
He said he was the new schoolmaster — M. C. R. Campion.
"I'm a man of initials;" his hearty laugh rang across
the courtyard and up to Mrs. Strang, peeping at her old
bedroom window. Her eyes devoured his face. He took
off his hat. She saw a longish head with a large bump
behind. How different he was from Gillespie — young,
exuberant, well-dressed, courteous; and he asked such
strange questions. Her father laughed heartily in explosive
bursts as he listened to Mr. Campion touching
off vividly the members of the School Board who had
interviewed him. "Keen business men, I suppose?"
They disappeared round the cart-shed; and presently
Mrs. Strang heard them come in at the front door.
"Step up this way. If the room 'ill suit ye, ye can
have it; there's no one bidin' in't since my daughter
got married."
She looked around for a place in which to conceal
herself, and was discovered by Lonend, who was followed
into the bedroom by Mr. Campion.
"Oh! I beg your pardon," he said, and turned to
go out.
"Hoots! hae a look at it, seein' ye're here onyway.
Morag, this is the new schoolmaster; he's wantin' to
bide at Lonen'."
Morag flushed with her sense of guilty knowledge,
and made no answer.
"I could not be happier, taking up your daughter's
room." He bowed to her.
"That's a' richt; I'll be gled o' your company on
winter nights. It's fell lonely here whiles."
Mr. Campion held out his hand to her and said goodbye.
He gave her a firm hand-clasp. His hand was
soft and warm.
He did not remain in the yard, but swung out through
the gate and down the cart-road, slapping his walking--
stick with his gloves, his head held buoyantly; his
glance searching everywhere.
She remained standing at the window lost in thought.
There was an air of gaiety and youth, of daring an
romance about him; his black eyes were like Mrs.
Galbraith's. "I should like to have another walk with
him," she thought; and went downstairs to show her
father the furs, and hear his opinion of Mr. Campion.
CHAPTER XV
MRS. STRANG made the curious discovery that she was
without courage to take any initiative of her own, except
when she was under the domineering influence of Mrs.
Galbraith. If she remained absent for more than two
or three days from the house in the Back Street she
lapsed into hopeless contemplation of the fire. The only
thing which she persisted in was her visits to Lonend.
Brodie had presented his account long before Mrs. Tosh,
who had seen early in her business career that the
people who buy fox furs do not like to have their account
sent to them for some months. In respect of Brodie,
Topsail and her mistress were faced with a difficulty.
Once more Topsail had carried the magic name of
Gillespie into the tavern, and was met with a flat refusal.
The account had had its effect.
"No stuff," Brodie wheezed, "unless ye've a line
frae Gillespa'."
They were in despair. Mrs. Strang had given all her
time to Lonend, going out eagerly and returning listless.
She had not seen Mrs. Galbraith for more than a fortnight.
Topsail advised recourse to the Jew. He had
thrived since the time when necessity had put up the
shutters on her little shop; was grown broad and fat,
and wore fine boots with patent toes, and a gold ring.
Jeck the Traiveller was instructed to send him to the
close at dark alone. It was a bad business for Topsail,
for the Jew would name no price in the dark. He would
have to examine the articles. Besides, the Jew knew
intuitively that the business was clandestine. The first
thing to go was Mrs. Strang's wedding-dress. Topsail
wept. The dread of Gillespie made them cautious. In
half a year the Jew had stripped these women. The
unsophisticated Topsail had bound him to silence, and
the Jew learned to threaten them with Gillespie. The
jewellery alone was left; to which Mrs. Strang clung
with pathetic insistence. She dreaded this lack of
adornment when she went to Lonend to meet her lover.
Topsail and her mistress looked at each other in despair,
when the servant returned with news of Brodie's dire
refusal.
Gillespie at this moment entered, asking for his dinner.
"Here's your letters," said his wife.
There was silence in the kitchen while he opened and
read them.
"What in the name o' Goäd 's this?" his voice was surly
with rage, his face purple, the veins in his neck swollen.
"What is it, Gillespie?"
"What is it? What is it no'?" He slapped the blue
paper with his fingers; "an account for twenty-nine pounds
ten shillings frae Mrs. Tosh. Fox furs twenty-two pounds;"
he could not suppress his rage, or read the other items.
"Dae ye mean to ruin me, ye bauchle?" he shouted,
striding up and down the room. "Fox furs, fox furs;
whaur's the fox furs?" Half demented, his eyes dance
about the room. "Goäd in heaven, but I hae the wife,
ye drucken bauchle;" with flaming eyes he stepped
towards her and clenched his fist. Topsail Janet flashed
between them, in her hand a soup-ladle.
"Daur ye! daur ye strik' her? Deil roast ye, ye misert,
it's time ye pey'd somethin' for her. Ye've never gien
her a stitch since ye were mairrit. Div ye think she's
dirt, Lonen's daughter? It's her is the leddy, wi' her
muff, the bonniest cratur in the toon. We've done ower
muckle for ye. Daur ye touch her an' I'll expose ye
to the hale toon. It's me that told her tae get the
muff."
Gillespie slowly unclenched his hand.
"It's you as told her?" he sneered. "Weel, I'll keep
it off your wages."
"My wages! hear till him; my wages! I never got
a brown penny frae the day I set fut in your hoose. Pey
me my wages. Whaur's the price o' the toys an' books
ye stole oot o' my shop? Ye robber! Wait you. I'll
put the polissman on ye. Ye'll no haud me doon the
wy ye dae your wife, poor cratur."
Gillespie turned from her flaming face and sat down
at the table.
"Weel, weel, Janet, we'll say nae mair aboot it. I'm
hungry."
"Away an' mek' your ain meat then," she flashed.
"You, ye misert, tae lift your nief on a puir wumman.
See her greetin' her eyes oot."
"Gie me my dinner, Janet."
Custom was too strong for Topsail. The slave in her
rose in obedience. She flashed the plates on the table,
and spun down the clattering spoons.
"Dinna breck the crockery, Janet."
"Shut yeer mooth," she cried, "or I'll scad ye wi'
the broth." She filled his plate with broth. "Tek'
your ain beef and potatoes," she said. "Come, Mrs.
Strang, come awey an' leave the misert tae say his ain
grace tae the Almighty." And taking the arm of
Mrs. Strang, she led her out of the kitchen, into the front
parlour.
"We needna go back tae Mrs. Tosh," said Topsail,
grimly; "he'll be there as soon as he fills his belly.
Never mind," she said cheerily, "I'll gie the Jew my
wedding-ring the night."
"You .mustn't do that, Janet;" her mistress was
furtively wiping her eyes.
"Ach! he telt me he'd gie me a brass imitation wan
instead. Naebody 'ill ken the differ; no' even Jeck;"
she laughed merrily.
CHAPTER XVI
FEW in Brieston fathomed Gillespie. He had had the
best of luck. Times were good. There was no occasion
for the wolf to cast its sheep's clothing. He had
cloaked his covetousness under the guise of opening up
new channels of commerce. The substantial beginnings
of a fortune in his hands, and the possibilities of its
ultimate attainment had sharpened his business faculty
to a monstrous degree. There was something hawk-like
in the man, as he hovered over the town spying out chances
and occasions. He had always been crafty, and had
veiled his actions so adroitly in hypocrisy, and was so
cordial, even to his enemies, that he was held as a first--
rate man. When people have formed such an opinion,
and find it backed up by ostensibly beneficial public acts,
they are tenacious, and ready to find reasons for any
lapse on the part of their idol. Thus, when Andrew
Rodgers met his death in the sea at Gillespie's store, the
hero of the town at first suffered no obloquy or disparagement.
Every one remembered Andy's unsleeping enmity;
and he had in a moment of mad frolic pushed his
insolence, into the realm of terrorising, for which he had
suffered.
But as the affair was discussed, it began to take on
a more sinister aspect. Lonend went out of his way to
insinuate the depth of guile in Gillespie's heart, and
Mrs. Galbraith expressed herself to Mary Bunch as being
deeply shocked. She could believe anything of the man.
Gillespie, outwardly in the noontide of his glory, was now
in the innermost heart of the people a man to be watched
"Who was informin' the Government men about your
trawl-nets?" Lonend asked, and whipped them with
scorn for their blindness. "Who was to profit on the
loss of your nets, if it wasna Gillespie Strang?"
No man can be mixed up in a dire event and come out
of it scathless, however much he may appear to have
been the victim of circumstance. There is a voiceless,
scrutinising, irresistible current of judgment, deep like a
silently flowing river, about whose banks are whispering
and hints. It flows through humanity and influences
the soul in a profound, inscrutable way, as a river quietly
influences the country through which it flows. This is
not public opinion, but is the solidarity of the human
conscience, educated from time immemorial, and existing
round the race as a moral atmosphere which, however
corrupt public or individual life may be, cleanses the
human race and preserves it in corporate righteousness.
To this invisible influence is due the common anomaly
of a man who, dishonest in private life, preserves an
unflinching rectitude on a public board.
This deep wave of judgment flowed through Brieston
Outwardly, Gillespie had acted in fair play; but men,
despite themselves, and even avowedly anxious to defend
him, were haunted with sinister suspicions. Gillespie
had been too swift and direct. Brieston was menaced
by such a man. The banks of the river were full of
whisperings.
The barrenness of the stores beyond the Quay was
characteristic of their owner. They had lain in a dilapidated
state for years, and except for putting new locks
on the doors, and fettering the windows, Gillespie did
nothing. The factor refused point-blank to spend a
penny on their repair, and they remained bare, tumble--
down, thick with grime. Corners were festooned with
cobwebs; the floors were encumbered with rubbish —
broken bottles, scraps of old iron, and rotten ropes.
A daylight corner beside the door, which had once been
rented from the Laird by a clog-maker, was heaped up
with a sodden, yellowish mass of wood-chips and sawdust.
In another corner had been stored part of the library of
the doctor who had preceded Maclean. This library,
laid to rest in a cemetery of boxes, had been plundered
by fishermen and schoolboys. Gillespie had made use
of the boxes; but a vast quantity of medical journals
and papers lay scattered over the far-off end of the store.
At this end there was a door opening directly on the
Harbour, on which the stores were built. Gillespie, who
had begun to interest himself in the West Loch Brieston
oysters, made use of this door for lowering his bags of
oysters into the sea, to keep them fresh against the orders
of customers. On the other door, by which ingress to
the store was obtained, he had a notice inked in large
letters:
"EVERYTHING OFF THE HOOK;
READY MONEY."
In mid-winter, when the herring-fishing season was
over, the fishermen worked at "the small" and "the
big lines," in crews of four men in open boats, some
fifteen to twenty feet in length. A basket of small
lines was baited with mussel; "the big" or deep sea
lines with immature herring. They relied on the small
lines for whiting, cod, and lithe; on the big lines — which
they "shot" and left for a night and a day attached to
buoys — for ling, eel, and skate.
"EVERYTHING OFF THE HOOK;
READY MONEY."
Thereafter followed a list of the different fish, and the
prices, according to their length. Gillespie had learned
from a Stornoway fish-buyer, who had visited Brieston
the chance of curing herring, that this was the method of
buying fish which English buyers used in Barra. With
ling, especially if they were under the length, Gillespie
demanded a cod or a whiting to be thrown in to make up
his price.
From the time of the herring-buying incident, Gillespie
commanded all the fish caught. This was a severer
blow to the clique of buyers on the Quay than the loss
of their herring supply, for the herring market is risky,
having glorious chances, but at the same time grave losses,
while in respect of "white fish" it was different. The
market was steady; they knew exactly what to pay for
the fish on the Quay, and had found in this trafficking —
especially in ling, eel, and skate — a steady source of
income. Andrew Rodgers's rage was extreme at the
deprivation. His small, yellow eyes had a wolfish
glitter as he saw the fishermen sell their fish to Gillespie
though he offered the same money, and said that his,
silver was as white as Gillespie's.
"No, no, Andy; it's black, since the day ye told us
tae go tae the big market."
Rage, however, will not go to market, and Andy
himself was forced to take to "the lines," accompanied
by Tamar Lusk and Queebec. They were, lifting their
second "shot" when that happened to them which had
happened to Topsail Janet. The dead arose from the
sea. The body was headless. Tamar, to whose line
it was attached, fell backwards across the beam, and the
line slowly sagged from his nerveless hands.
"What's wrong wi' ye, Tamar?" wheezed Queebec,
from the other side of the boat.
"Hae ye a knife? I've brought up the Day o'
Judgment."
The sight of Tamar's face roused Queebec. He made the
line he was hauling on fast to the iron thole-pin, and began
hauling on Tamar's line. Tamar caught Queebec's arm.
"Let go," he shouted, "let go; it's a man."
At the words, the familiar sea suddenly became
horrible to these two men. An apparition of the dead
floated up out of the dark-green depths, appallingly
significant of the cold, stealthy, sinister deep. Tamar
shivered and whined on Queebec to cut the line. Brick--
red patches stood out on Queebec's high cheek-bones.
Fear was taking him by the throat, but a spark of manhood
flickered in him.
"We'll tek' him ashore an' gie him Christian beerial."
Tamar covered his face with his hands.
"No, no," he moaned; "I canna thole the look o'
thon; there's no heid on it."
Andy, who had been silent at the stern, said coolly:
"I expect he got a skelp wi' a propeller on the neck.
Tek' a turn roond the thole-pin, Queebec."
Queebec, with trembling hand, obeyed. He had no
stomach, either, for a headless corpse.
Andy silently took a half-mutchkin bottle from his
pocket and handed it to Queebec, who having drank,
gave it to Tamar.
"No, no! I canna pree't wi' — wi' that anchor on to
the boat."
The bottle went back to Andy, and was again passed
to Queebec. They finished it between them.
"What's the maitter wi' ye, Tamar? Were ye never
'oot sweepin' for a deid body?" When a fisherman is
drowned, long lines of grappling-hooks are used to
"sweep" for the body. "What's the differ between this
body an' a fisherman's?" asked Andy in scorn.
I don't care, I don't care; cut the line; we're no
sweepin', we're fishin'."
Andy thrust forward his lean, dogged face.
"The big fella" — this was Gillespie's name on the
Quay — "peys for everything off the hook, ready money
We'll gie him something for his money." Ah, Andy
the sea that returns the dead, will it not be avenged?
"Never since I saw white poirpoises off Newfoundland
did I ever hear the like." The toughened mariner of
the ports of the New World was not so squeamish as
Tamar. He, too, had felt keenly the bite of Gillespie's
claws; but there lingered in his mind a wholesome
respect for Gillespie.
"It's the jyle he'll be gein' us," he said.
"Jyle be damned! cried Andy fiercely; "are we no'
tekin' the body ashore for beerial? Where wad we leave
it but in the store? He's a damn coward, Gillespie.
We'll mek' him the laughin'-stock o' Brieston." Andy
began to pull on the line.
"For Goäd's sake don't tek' it up," screamed Tamar;
"dae ye want the judgment o' Goäd on us?"
"Shut your mooth," yelped Andy, "or I'll heave ye
over the side."
Tamar squirmed forward and buried his face in the
bow-sheets, when he heard a splash in the water.
"Hold him by the shouther a meenut," he heard Andy
say; "up wi' him noo." A scraping sound reached his
ears as the body was hauled in and hastily thrown down
in the boat. They buoyed the remainder of the lines
and set sail. Queebec sat with his back to the body
and faced Andy, who was at the tiller.
After a long silence Queebec spoke:
"I'm no' carin' for this work; we'll send word to
Campbell the polisman."
"We'll do noäthin' o' the kind. We'll leave it in
Gillespie's store an' send for him. Where's the hairm in
that?"
Silence and the dusk fell on the boat, along which the
sea mourned. Dark, long, and rakish, she had the
appearance of a coffin.
Suddenly Tamar screamed.
"It's movin', my Goäd, it's movin'!"
"Shut up, you damn fool; dae ye want the hale toon
to hear ye?" They were now in the Harbour mouth.
The wind was westerly, dead in their teeth. They were
on the windward tack, and when close inshore at the
Pier Tamar, springing up in the bow, leapt overboard.
The boat was about on the other tack. Andy jammed
down the tiller; but the boat, with little way on her,
came shivering up in the wind. In the silence they heard
Tamar swimming, and presently he was scrambling up
on the rocks.
"Hell scud him!" said Andy; "I thought he wad be
drooned;" and put down the helm. When they reached
the Quay night was come, and the stores were locked.
They sent a boy to Gillespie to tell him there was fish
at the Quay.
"We'll cairry this up to the door," said Andy.
Queebec, now sober, refused at first the ugly task, and
eased his conscience as he took the feet.
"Andy, you're just a duvvil."
"I'm no' the quate sookin duvvil Gillespie is. I'm
for fightin' in the open; an' if I bate him, it's you an'
Tamar an' a lot more o' ye that'll benefit." Andy always
put a plausible face on his viciousness. He, indeed,
differentiated his methods of attack from Gillespie's
with some discernment. Andy leapt with flame in his
eyes at a breach. Gillespie hated the sound of trumpets
in his warfare, preferring poison and its arts to bullets
and their butchery. The very appearance of the two
antagonists was characteristic of their methods — the
one lean and fiery, the other stout and cautious. Andy
sought a present satisfaction, being more concerned with
revenge than with any future advantage. Gillespie
explored warily the human heart, and laid his strategy on
the instability and gullibleness of men. He used men
as his instruments, for every man could be useful to him
in some way. It was not his policy to quarrel with men,
and if on occasion he had to be servile, he extorted his
price in the end. You will understand the weapons
with which these men were about to meet.
"Any luck, boys?" Gillespie's cheery voice rang out.
"Oh! fairish, fairish."
"That you, Andy? Are ye no' for tryin' the mercat
yersel'?" There was the faintest tinge of irony in the
tone.
"I'm done wi' the buyin', Gillespie."
Gillespie unlocked the door of the store.
"All right, Andy; there's no a great dale in the fush
ee noo, anyway. Just cairry them in." They brought
in the fish, and then the body.
Gillespie lit one of the naphtha torches used at night on
the Quay. It smoked, and cast huge, dancing shadows
across the piles of empty herring-barrels, as if the wings
of great flying bats darkened the air. When the fish
were sold, Andy bent down and undid the wet sail.
"Its off the hook," he said, "an' inches weel."
Gillespie started at the apparition of horror, and his
face paled visibly as he took a sudden step backwards.
This brought him nearest the door. From his position
he saw straight down between the shoulders of the
headless trunk.
"Are ye mad, Andy?" he said in horror.
"It's you that'll soon be mad, by Goäd," and the
venom of the man came out. "What are ye doin' wi'
a corp in your store?" This sudden treachery took even
Queebec by the throat.
"Did ye no' cairry it here?" answered Gillespie, who
was plainly nonplussed.
"Not us; we're two to wan to sweir against ye; are we
no', Queebec?"
Gillespie turned to Queebec.
"Will ye tek' an oath on Almighty Goäd that ye didna
cairry that in here? Look at it, the twa o' ye. The very
corp wad speak if it could. Look at it!"
As if Gillespie's index finger were a sign the trunk
made a perceptible movement.
"What damn monkey tricks are ye up tae?" cried
Andy passionately. "Stand back frae the corp."
Gillespie took a step towards the door.
"I hevna meddled it, Andy," he said, with quiet
assurance. The great shadows hopped across the barrels;
in the cold night wind, through the open door, the flame
of the torch trembled and shook as if in sudden fear.
Gillespie, with a backward jerk of his foot, flung the door
shut with a clang that echoed through the cavernous
store, locked it and put the key in his pocket. "No
need for a' the world to see," he said.
Queebec stared fascinated. "God, it's movin', see!"
Andy, who was standing at the foot of the body,
jumped backwards. Gillespie, stepping to the barrels,
lifted the torch. His shadow stood out solid and deep.
He went back to his former position, and keenly scrutinised
the trunk at the shoulders. At that moment the
trunk gave a violent convulsion.
"Let me oot o' this, Gillespie; let me oot!" Queebec
squealed. "It's Andy's work, I tell ye. Ask Tamar
Lusk."
"The thing's no' canny, Queebec;" Gillespie took a
measuring-tape from his pocket. His damp breath
clouded the murky air. "But we've a bargain to mek',
you an' me" — he nodded towards Andy; "it's inches
weel, is it? Is it no' an inch or two short aboot the
heid?"
Gillespie did not want to measure the body. He
desired a pretext to get nearer it to verify his suspicion.
The wind suddenly went moaning through the empty
barrels. Its cold wave passed as ice on the napes of
their necks. Queebec raised his hand to his cheek with
a nervous gesture. The hand suffered from a sea-boil,
and was swathed in a dirty rag. He began gnawing
the rag.
"Gillespie," he muttered sullenly, "gie me the
key."
Gillespie turned on him a bland face.
"Are ye no' for your pey, Queebec? ye've had a touch
the night." He bent down to the corpse and laid the
brass edge of the tape on the neck. The frayed remnant
of a dongaree jacket clothed it. As the tape touched the
sodden flesh, a violent shudder went through the trunk,
and a look of understanding passed quickly over Gillespie's
face. He had discovered from his position at the head
of the body what the others were unable to see.
"Here, Andy, my man, hold it quate; the thing's gey
an ill tae measure."
Andy, shrouded in the gloom, was making little sucking
sounds, which froze Queebec's blood. An unseen terror
lay behind the monstrous dancing shadows. Queebec
slipped behind Gillespie, and began kicking the door with
his big sea-boots.
"Nae use o' that, Queebec; there's no' a livin' sowl
on the Quay a dark night lik' this." He rose to his feet,
and stood directly between Queebec and the body.
"Ay," he said, "it's the size o' a big conger nate; I
winna cheat ye in the price o' this; no for a' the world.
Fower feet aucht an' a half. A fine, upstandin' man he
must ha' been."
He pocketed the tape, took some silver coins from
his pocket and counted them. Some he put back to his
pocket, the others he held in his open palm.
"Here, boys! here's the blood money."
Queebec's voice rang out in a scream. "Gie me the
key o' the door."
"Dinna be blate, Andy. Come and tek' the siller.
See an' dinna drink it. Maybe ye'd better put it in the
plate come Sunday. Eh! what was the minister on
last Sunday, Queebec? Ou ay! I mind noo. Judas
sellin' his Master. But ye sell a cauld corp as hevna'
got the eyes to see ye. Look at it, Andy, look at it
movin' again."
Queebec, enthralled by horror, turned his face from
the door, and saw across the smoky glare a great shadow
swooping like a thing of menace across the ceiling.
Gillespie saw his terror-stricken eyes, the flash of their
blood-shot whites; but was too late. The iron fist,
hardened on the Spanish Main, swung like a hammer.
"Ye'll gie me the key noo."
Gillespie heard the maddened scream as he fell with
a smothered groan across the dead body. His right hand
shot out spasmodically; the torch flew from it in a downward
curve, hit one of the barrels, and went out. The
store was thick with inky darkness.
"Good Goäd! I've done for him."
Queebec staggered back against the pile of barrels
which had been left in disorder since the day on which
Gillespie had made his advent as a buyer. It trembled
and rocked; flattened out, and with a crash gave way.
Losing this support to his back, Queebec fell. A hot,
stabbing pain went through his head. He felt blood on
his cheek. Then there was silence in the store, save for
the sound of a barrel which was rolling down the gentle
slope of the floor, rolling quietly, as if seeking furtively
to escape from the confusion. When it ceased rolling,
the sound of the sea along the walls broke in on the store
with a hissing noise that died away into a feathery
silence. Queebec rose to his feet, and stood like a block
of granite, listening to hear Gillespie breathe, but he
could hear nothing — nothing but the monotonous wash
of the sea.
"Andy," he whispered into the dark. A water-rat
that had been routed out of its corner by the fall of
the barrels scuttled across the floor towards the corpse.
Queebec, shivering and peering forward, cried, "Hiss —
Suddenly there was a loud crash. Andy, creeping down
the floor, had dislodged the remainder of the pile of barrels.
Queebec put out his hands in front of his face.
"Is that you, Andy? Have you a match?"
"No;" the voice came from far away.
Queebec did not smoke. Andy had given his box of
matches to Tamar Lusk in the line boat.
"Andy! can ye hear him breathin'?"
"Who?"
"Gillespie."
"Gillespie! where's Gillespie?" the voice quavered
with fear.
"He's lyin' across thon thing. I gied him a clink on
the temple. He wadna gie me the key." Queebec was
hurriedly justifying himself, to stifle the terror that rose
in his gorge. "Dae ye hear him movin'?"
There was no answer from Andy.
"Andy! Andy! Will ye no' speak?"
"Keep clear o' me," wailed Andy. "Ye've done for
him. I'm no goin' to be hanged for you."
"No! no!" cried Queebec; "I didna mean anything.
He wadna gie me the key; he wadna gie me the key.
I dinna strik' him that hard. Where are ye, Andy?"
The silence was solid about them. Through the
impenetrable gloom a faint noise came to their pricked--
up ears. The thing was moving, moving.
"Oh! my Goäd, Andy, it's crawlin' to me!" Queebec
screamed, and doubled up began to scurry forward
towards the far end of the store.
Half running, he tripped and fell over Andy, who rose
upon his knees, and in a blind fury caught Queebec by
the throat. "I'll no' swing for you; I'll no' swing for
you."
The two men, breathing hard, struggled in the darkness.
Queebec, the more powerful, shook off Andy and pinned
him by the two shoulders to the floor. His blood was
on fire. His fist swung up and came down full on Andy's
mouth with a sickening thud. "Ye bloody fool; wad
ye throttle me?"
In the darkness there was a sound of blood gurgling.
Andy wriggled beneath the powerful hands. "Let
me go, Queebec, ye're killin' me."
A wave of terror again swept over Queebec. Was he
to have another man's death at his door? With a groan
he released Andy, who after a prolonged silence
whispered:
"Queebec, we're a pair o' waens. Nobody saw us
comin' in here. Dae ye no' see? If we get oot quietly
they'll find Gillespie in the morn — alone wi' wi' — "
"What o' Tamar?"
"Tamar be damned! He'll no' speak."
Queebec shivered with hope. "Hoo can we mand
oot o' here?"
"Go an' rype him for the key," Andy whispered, and
swallowed blood.
"I canna! I canna! I've done for him. Go on
you."
"Me! Me! Touch thon; did ye no' hear it movin'
in the dark?"
Again they listened, as from without came up the long
sob of the sea. Andy gripped Queebec by the arm.
"The back door," he whispered. "I clean forgot; the
back door."
The plowter of the sea rose along the wall.
"The tide's in," said Queebec; "hear to it."
"I'll face twenty tides before thon thing. It can
crawl, Queebec," and Queebec, with his blood curdling,
began to wriggle to the far end of the store.
"Wait for me, Queebec;" the other followed and ran
his head into a barrel. He leapt back, his nerves quivering;
but terror of being left behind goaded him on. He
rose to his feet and plunged head-foremost over the
barrel, ploughing his wrist and arm on the concrete floor.
He backed into the clammy wall and crept upon some
broken bottles. He was bleeding at the mouth, at the
wrist and the hands. A cold wind suddenly blew on
his face; the sea-draught from the door. He stood up,
fumbling with both hands, found the sneck and jerked
the door open. They saw the sky, placid with stars
and the blue-black night, and gulped in great draughts
of the brine-laden air.
"God in heaven, I'm seeck; let us get oot o' here,"
said Queebec. He sat down to take off his big sea-boot,
and found the rope, which Gillespie had attached to a
bag of oysters, steeping in the sea. Queebec took off
his boots and jacket, gripped the rope, and swung himself
over the edge.
"Queebec! Queebec! wait for me; I canna sweem."
Suddenly a barrel came crashing to the floor.
"Goäd Almighty, it's crawlin' among the barrels."
Andy cast a look over his shoulder into the dark, then,
holding his face between his hands, jumped feet first into
the sea. Down! down! he sank. A black, thundering
mass roared in his ears. His head was about to burst
when he shot gasping to the surface. Choking with
blood and brine, he saw the peaceful stars glittering high
overhead. Something gripped him by the hair; and the
church clock began slowly booming through the night.
"Hold on to the rope, or ye'll droon," a voice was saying.
The salt water was nipping his bleeding hands, but
he gripped the rope and leaned hard against the wall.
"Are ye right?" he heard the voice again. He tried
to speak, and nodded to the sea, which was rippling about
his shoulders. He had never seen it that colour before —
blue like steel in the starlight. A little wave splashed
in his face, and stung his eyes. He swallowed some salt
water.
"Are ye hearin' me, Andy?"
"Ay."
"Hae ye a good grup o' the rope?" the voice was
somewhere above his head. He thought it was Queebec's,
and would like to climb up to the voice, but his big
sea-boots were heavy with water, and he had to keep
swallowing salt water or blood, he did not know which.
With the tip of his tongue he discovered that some of
his teeth had disappeared.
"Ye've knocked my teeth doon my throat," he
whispered to the water; and the little plashing waves
mocked him, and licked his face. One bigger than the
others took his breath away for a minute. He was
feeling the cold boring into his bones, like a hot gimlet.
"Ye're sure ye've a good grup, Andy?"
"Ay," he said, to this pestering voice overhead.
Then something that was holding him by the hair of the
head let go, and he slipped down head beneath into the
water. It was terribly black now and choking him.
With a supreme effort he pulled himself up by the rope.
The heel of his big sea-boot caught in an edge of the stone.
He felt it supporting him. He tried with his other heel
to find a corner in the wall; but the wall was smooth.
There was a drumming sound in his ears. He thought
it must be the church bell ringing; but the bell had
ceased on the last stroke of midnight, and a vast silence
covered the face of the sky.
"It's no high watter yet; we canna hing here a'
night," the voice above him was saying; "they'll miss
Gillespie an' come lookin' for him. The sooner we're
oot o' here the better." Andy could not follow the voice.
The thundering bells in his ears were drowning its
nagging tones.
"Dae ye hear me, Andy? I'll sweem to the Quay
an' come back wi' a punt. Hold on for your life noo.
I'll be back in twenty meenuts. Don't let go, or ye'll
droon."
There was no answer.
"Are ye hearin' me, Andy?" screamed Queebec, in
fear.
Andy heard the words. They seemed to drop down on
him from some height beneath the stars; and he was
weary of this terrible voice.
"Ay, ay," he muttered, and closed his eyes. Something
dark shot past him. He heard a splash in the water.
The waves broke on his face, and blinded him. He
swallowed more salt water. The salt still blinded his
eyes, and he let his left hand go from the rope to rub them.
This movement dislodged his heel from the protruding
stone of the wall. He could not find it again. He was
like a man being hung. The thought stirred some
association in his brain. It was Queebec who was to be
hung for killing Gillespie. Gillespie! He remembered
and shivered in the water. He did not feel the cold
now from the level, dark-blue sea that stretched away
for miles. Far off across the water he saw a light burning
in a window of the Barracks, and wished he was there.
He moved his body, and at the movement thought some
one was pouring water down the legs of his trousers.
His legs were getting rigid like iron bars; his arms were
terribly weary with the strain. Something cold was
lap, lapping about his throat. He tried to pull himself
up from it; and his legs swam away from under him.
The weight was now pulling his arms out of their sockets.
His eyes closed; he felt sleepy. Why was he clinging
here, with such a sickening weight on his arms, and nothing
beneath his rigid legs? That dark-blue mass at his chin
was like a great, soft pillow. God! how he longed for
his bed! His head was slowly turning round. It must
be the rope that was twisting. The stars in front of
his face above the hills were wheeling about in the sky
like sparks stirred about in a big pot. He could not keep
his eyes open. He was numb and wet and tired. God!
to be in bed, and the soft, dark pillow below him!
The head nodded to the stars, the mouth opened, the
fingers relaxed. What a weight was off his arms! Slowly
the hands slid down the rope, and with a gurgling
sound the white, wet face disappeared in the dark,
silent water. There was a feeble beating of the hands
for a moment, a fluttering towards the rope, one or two
bubbles rose to the surface ….
A punt was being quietly sculled towards the rope.
The sculler drew in his oar, and crept froward.
"Andy," he whispered.
There was no answer.
The bow of the punt drifted into the rope. Queebec
stared upwards, following the length of the rope in the
starlight till it disappeared over the edge at the door.
He climbed up and shouted into the dark, terrible
silence.
"Goäd in heaven, he's gone!"
Queebec, his hands on fire with their rush over the
rope, pushed the punt away from the wall, and peered
down into the dark water. He could see nothing. He
kept staring at the water, paralysed with terror. Suddenly
Andy's words hammered on his brain, "Nobody saw us
comin' here."
"Nobody saw us, nobody saw us," he sobbed; jumped
to the oar, and began sculling to the Quay.
CHAPTER XVII
BRIESTON was full of the wildest rumours. Gillespie
had been found in the early morning by Jeck the
Traiveller lying in the store beside a dead man, who
had broken into the store and had felled Gillespie.
Gillespie, in turn, had killed the man. All day crowds
hung about the store, peering in through the key-hole,
and craning their necks at the broken windows. All
they could see was a litter of barrels on the floor. Excitement
reached a pitch of frenzy when two boys, who had
been scavenging along the seaweed of the walls of the
store at low water for whelks, came running up the
Quay with scared, white faces, crying, "There's a deid
man on the shore; there's a deid man on the shore."
The agent of the luggage steamer, one of the porters,
and three fishermen who were at the "Shipping Box"
ran down the Quay. Willie Allan, who had a shop at
the Quay, across the road from the "Shipping Box,"
hearing the hubbub, scurried to his door, and seeing men
running down the Quay, shouted to the Fishery Officer
whose office was next to his shop that somebody was
drowning. Both set to running. Windows were flung
up in the Quay tenements. The head of Andy's wife
appeared with the others. The stairs sounded with
the feet of hurrying men. The two boys ran up Harbour
Street, shouting their news everywhere. In a quarter
of an hour the shore was black with people around the
body of Andy. He lay face upwards, with the head
pointing in the direction of the Harbour mouth. Some
of his teeth were missing. The thin, bleached face,
and wet, wiry hair, the broken mouth and mauled hands,
in the centre of this group of curious, healthy humanity,
gave a sense of pathos to that forlorn shore and its burden
and silenced the babble of tongues in the inner ring of
men. Those on the fringe were eagerly inquiring what
was wrong, and pushing restlessly to the front to glut
the eye.
"It's Andy Rodgers," went from mouth to mouth.
The baulked fringe was determined on a sight of the
body. The crowd heaved and swayed. Willie Allan
flung his apron over his shoulder, and anger flashed in
his eyes.
"Stop that shovin'!" he shouted; "did ye never see
a deid man before?" The crowd became suddenly
still. "One of you," he shouted, "go for Dr. Maclean,
and tell the policeman."
Sandy the Fox pressed forward, stared down at Andy,
and took another step beside the body. Willie Allan
caught him by the shoulder and spun him round. "Here
you, get out of this; let nobody touch the body till the
doctor comes." The Fox showed his teeth, edged his
way through the crowd, and hurried up the Quay.
Andy's wife, a large, buxom woman, was at the close,
talking with two neighbours, and Andy's only son was
hanging about near at hand.
"What's wrong, Sandy," he shouted, "doon at the
Quay?"
Again Sandy the Fox showed his teeth, and glanced at
the group of women.
"Your mother's a weeda," he snarled, and passed,
loping.
Mrs. Rodgers put her left hand on her breast, and her
face became as chalk. Her knees tottered. She swayed
a little and lurched forward, gripping at the shoulder of
her nearest neighbour. "Aw! Dhia! Dhia! tek' me
home. Aw! Aw! Aw!"
They supported her in through the close and up the
stair, and laid her on the kitchen bed.
Dr. Maclean had been roused through the night by
Jeck the Traiveller, and had seen in Gillespie's store a
sight which he would never forget. He had not gone
back to bed, but sat till day whitened the window of
his smoking-room. He had watched Gillespie as that
man slowly came round to consciousness. "Queebec,"
Gillespie muttered, and lapsed into pertinacious silence.
Maclean noticed that he betrayed no fear or horror
of his ghastly companion of the night.
At eight o'clock in the morning, Maclean knocked at
Queebec's door. He knew the house very well. Some
five months before Queebec had come in the dead of night
imploring Maclean to come and see his daughter.
"She's in fair agony, doctor."
Maclean went downstairs, made up a medicine in
the surgery, and accompanied Queebec. When he
reached the house, he found the youngest daughter in
bed and her two sisters applying hot plates over the
region of the stomach. A glance told Maclean what
the trouble was, and he stood with his back to the fire,
watching in silence for a few minutes the pathetic efforts
of the sisters.
"Put the plate away, my girl," said Maclean; "you're
doing more harm than good." Within two hours Maclean
had delivered the girl of a child. He had not
forgotten Queebec, nor had Queebec forgotten him, and
was prepared to go through fire and water for the
doctor.
It was a natural thing for him to find Queebec in bed
at eight in the morning; not so natural that he should
find Queebec ailing.
"I've a heavy cold lyin' on my chest, doctor," Queebec
said, coughing.
Maclean watched him musingly for a moment. "You
look as if you had seen a ghost," he said.
Queebec visibly trembled beneath the bed-clothes.
Maclean stepped across the room, picked up a small
mirror hanging over the sink, and coming back, handed
it in silence to Queebec, who took one glance.
"My Goäd!" he moaned. His hair was white.
Maclean took the mirror out of the shaking hand and
returned it to its place. "Take off the buttons," he
said, "till I have a look at you."
Queebec's trembling hands could not lay hold of the
buttons. Maclean undid them, rolled back the striped
shirt and semet, and putting a forefinger on Queebec's
chest, began to tap it with his other finger. In this way
he traversed the chest.
"Turn over on your face." He rolled up Queebec's
shirt and semet, and laid his ear in the region of the
shoulder-blades.
"Take a deep breath," he commanded; "another."
He pulled down the garments. "That'll do," he said.
Queebec rolled over and faced him. "Anything
wrong, doctor?"
"You've got a complication, Queebec. I'll manage
to cure part of it. There's some mischief at the base of
the right lung." He tugged at his moustache, watching
Queebec. "You've another trouble," he said.
"What is it, doctor?"
Maclean drew in a chair to the bedside. "I don't
know," he answered; "it's left your hair white."
"Oh, doctor, doctor!" Queebec covered his face with
his hands.
"Where were you last night? You've caught a bad cold."
Queebec's eyes stared at the doctor, beseeching mercy,
pity, help. "I wasna to blame, Goäd knows. It was
Andy Rodgers began it. Ask Tamar Lusk."
"Who struck Gillespie?" Maclean saw the sudden
look of fear leap into Queebec's eyes — the look of a beast
cowering as it waits the death-stroke. The man's face
was agonised with terror.
"Don't be afraid, Queebec," said Maclean soothingly.
"Gillespie's all right. Some one stunned him. He'll
be up to-morrow."
A sudden glory irradiated the miserable man's face,
and tears welled up in his grey eyes. He made an effort
to speak as he gripped the doctor's hand.
"Doctor, doctor!" He took a long, deep breath.
"Oh! I'm a new man."
After a little Maclean said, "Now, Queebec, tell me
everything." And Queebec, concealing nothing, told
the grim story of the past night. When it was ended,
Maclean said:
"I can't go to Andy just now; I'll have to wait till
I'm sent for." But he paid another visit to the store,
examined the headless corpse, put his hand in at the
hole where the head had been severed from the body, and
caught something slippery. With an exclamation of
disgust he pulled out a black eel, which had burrowed
in through the sodden trunk, swung the serpent-fish by
the tail, and brought its head crashing down on the
concrete floor. It gave a convulsive movement down the
length of its body, and lay still. With the toe of his boot,
Maclean lifted it over beside the dead body, covered the
body again with the sail, and glancing at the back door
of the store, which stood open, and at a pair of big sea--
boots standing there, went out, and locked the door
behind him. An observer would have noticed him glance
up at Andy's window as he passed up Harbour Street
homewards.
CHAPTER XVIII
DR. MACLEAN had been summoned, and hurrying
down Harbour Street, was met by the flying son of Andy.
Periodically men, boys, and sometimes women, are seen
running up the street. No one thinks of them as ungainly
at such a time, because they may be racing with
Death for a precious life. Especially terrible is the sound
of running footsteps in the deserted streets at night.
Maclean hurried to the help of Mrs. Rodgers, who was
conscious again.
"Aw, Goäd peety me," she moaned.
"He died like a hero," said the doctor, "trying to
save Queebec."
And that was all which the public ever heard from
Dr. Maclean of the mystery of the store.
"Here's the doctor! here's the doctor!" The manner
in which the crowd made way for him was their testimony
to their faith.
Maclean did not so much as touch the body. "He's
been dead for twelve hours," he said.
Brieston was in a ferment. Where was Gillespie?
Who was the dead man in the store? Who had struck
Andy on the mouth and sent him headlong out of the store
into the water? No! it couldn't be that. His hands
and his wrist were cut. From the Barracks to the
"Shipping Box" groups of people lived with rumour;
and slowly, pervasively, a sinister opinion of Gillespie
began to take possession of men's minds. Why had he
been in the store so late at night? Ugly rumours of
his avaricious dealings with Galbraith of Muirhead got
abroad. It was hinted that he had arrested the furniture
of a small farmer in the country for debt without
authority. The farmer had called him a thief, and
Gillespie threatened the farmer with an action for libel
unless he was paid fifty pounds. The unsophisticated
man was ruined.
"It was a canty wee neeboorly through-gaen, but an'
ben toon till he came," said Ned o' the Horn.
"You'll scratch me an' I'll scratch you sort o' toon,"
answered old Sandy, on the defensive for his hero.
"We'd never ken oor ain faults if it wasna for the likes
o' him. It's good whiles to hae a breeze."
"Weel," flashed Ned o' the Horn, to whom the opinions
of the Pump were retailed by his better-half, Black
Jean, "I lik' a breeze that's clean. No' thon wee
yeuky eyes aye watchin' ye, an' his hand aye claut, claut,
clautin'. You bate he dinna buy your herrin', Sandy,
wi' his eyes shut. Poor Andy that's deid an' gone
could hae bought them if he'd a store hotched wi' stock
an' a puffer ready to mek' the run. He didna tell ye
what they came oot at in Glesca."
Gillespie stood in bad odour. The Butler had an
ill-omened story of Gillespie's dealings with Mirren
Johnstone, when her father had died. Mary Bunch had
it from Nan at Jock, and told Mrs. Galbraith. Campion,
the new schoolmaster, had told the Butler, who did not
know how Campion had got the story — very likely at
Lonend. Mirren came into the shop with the stains of
tears like blisters yet in the hollow of her cheeks, and
asking for material for a black dress, burst into tears.
"What ails ye, Mirren?" asked Gillespie, picking up
the measuring-yard.
"Faither's — deid."
"Ay! ay! that's a peety. I never heard he was so
near his end."
"Och! och! no, no. He rose at the turn o' the
nicht;" she bravely winked the tears away. "My
mother cried me ben. She was frightened to be alone
wi' him.
"'Betty,' he sez tae my mither, 'that's fine medicine
the doctor's gien me this time.'
"'Will ye no' tek' a wee drap spirits then, faither,
seein' ye're up?' I sez, for mother was fair in the
nerves.
"'No,' sez he, 'I'm wantin' to sleep;' and he went
back to bed." The girl burst out sobbing, "an' — oh —
oh — he was deid afore he'd the clothes aboot him."
"Ay, ay!" Gillespie ran his finger along the yard
"it was a sudden call."
The girl dried her eyes with the corner of her apron.
"Mither an' me wad lik' some mournin's."
"How much did ye say?"
"Six an' a half yairds for me, an' seven for my mither."
"A black merino?" in suave inquiry.
The girl assented.
"Cloth's up ee noo, wi' the drought in Australyia."
He swept the polished counter with his palm; "one
shilling and tenpence the yard."
He scribbled on a coarse piece of paper. "That'll
come oot at one pound four shillings and ninepence."
"I hevna the money," the girl faltered, shrinking
back from the counter. All things must give way to
the Angel of Death, they had thought in their misery,
looking down on the Angel's marble-sculptured creation
on the bed. The mines of Bonanza would surely unlock
their treasures at the omnipotent sweep of its chiselling
wings.
"I'm dootin', Mirren, I canna obleege ye; I'd like
to fine, but thae traivellers frae Glesca is fair harasshin'
me for money."
His voice was pleading with the girl who was stunned.
She had not dreamed that any one could confront death
with a denial. With a fleeting look of fear she swept
his face, and shrank farther back, shame driving her to
the door.
Gillespie recalled her. "Ye needna be in such a
hurry, Mirren. Your faither an' me was good freends."
She faced him again with hesitant eyes.
"I mind o' him tellin' me he was insured."
The light of hope sprang in the girl's face.
"Ay! he was insured on fifty pounds."
"Was it fifty? I didna ken the amount. Come awa'
ower to the other coonter."
This counter was at the back of the shop, away from
the lane of customers, where Gillespie kept the "dry
goods." He measured, cut, and made up the cloth in
a parcel, the girl all this while answering his questions
in low monosyllables.
"Was the rent all paid?"
"Were the rates an' taxes paid?"
Gillespie carried the parcel to the front counter and
disappeared. Through a small glass window, which
gave on the shop, she saw his head bowed over his desk.
Presently he returned, and handed the girl an I O U
with security on the insurance policy. A penny stamp
was affixed at the bottom.
"Just run up an' tell your mother to write her name
there." He laid the point of the pen on the face of the
effigy of the queen.
"Ye'll see I made it oot at 1s. 10d. I canna be lyin'
oot my money, Mirren, wi' thae traivellers frae Grennock
an' Glesca harasshin' me every Monday. An' I've just
put in the penny for the stamp. Poor lassie! it's a
peety o' ye lossin' your faither. It's kin' o' a wee thing
alarmin', a sudden call lik' that. I'll miss him aboot
the corner. Him an' me used to hae a crack whiles.
Tell your mother I'll be at the funeral."
The story went through Brieston like wild-fire.
"Ay! that's the man," said Lonend; "thon corbie!
thon white laugh!
Brieston was baulked and angry. Watty Foster had
brought the Fiscal from Ardmarkie; but no one was
allowed into the store except the doctor, Gillespie — who
passed down Harbour Street with a heavy, pondering
look and pouched eyes — Tamar Lusk, Willie Allan, the
Fishery Officer, the porter at the Quay, and Queebec.
Queebec's appearance astonished the town. "He's as
white 's a sheep, an' hoastin' lik' an auld craw." The
Quay head was dense with men. The clock in the
parish church was booming the hour of two when the
door of the store was reopened, and Gillespie came out
alone. In a little he was followed by every one except
the doctor and the Fiscal. Queebec and Tamar walked
on together, speaking in a low voice. They refused to
give any information, and Brieston gnawed ravenously
on its curiosity. The Fiscal caught the mailcoach back
to Ardmarkie, and Maclean drove to one of his cases in
the country. The next day, being Sunday, the two
ministers read an intimation requesting the people to
attend a double funeral on Monday afternoon at three
o'clock, one funeral to be from the Good Templars' Hall.
On the Saturday, when the door was locked, the
Fiscal, directing attention to the unknown body, asked
Gillespie how it came to be in his store. Gillespie
shook his head. "Maybe," he said softly, "Queebec
here can tell us." Queebec, with underlip trembling
violently, looked hesitatingly at the doctor.
"Tell the Procurator Fiscal what you told me yesterday
morning, Queebec. Keep nothing back."
"It will be as well," warned the Fiscal, "to make
a clean breast of everything, my man."
With many stumblings, Queebec once more repeated
the tale. The man looked so haggard and spent that
in the midst of the narrative the Fiscal invited him to sit
on a herring-box.
"An' that," ended the white-haired, broken man, on
a sob, " — that's the strucken truth; my hands tae Goäd."
He lifted his palms upwards.
"I believe you, my man," said the Fiscal, who made
no further comment, but questioned Willie Allan and the
others as to the finding of Andy's body. He examined
the back door and the rope, and noted Queebec's big sea--
boots and jacket. The blackened torch stood out against
a barrel as a funereal witness to the truth of these things.
"Have you anything to add?" the Fiscal turned
sharply on Gillespie.
"Weel," he answered in an insinuating voice, and
looking at Queebec; "I might hae a case for damages
an' assault against this man."
"If you're wise you'll let that dead dog lie;" the
Fiscal cast a withering look on Gillespie. "In my
opinion the outcome of this unfortunate affair lies at
your door."
"I don't a'thegeither see that," Gillespie answered
smoothly.
"Come, come, my man," said the Fiscal, with a
rising intonation; "you were here in this gloomy place"
— he cast a glance round the store — "late at night with
a locked door, and you saw the corpse moving. Do you
tell me you weren't afraid?"
"No' me; it was Andy an' this man" — he pointed to
Queebec — "brought it. I wasna feart. It was the
Judgment o' Goäd on them." He frowned austerely
like a Calvinistic divine.
"That's not the case, Mr. Strang," said Maclean.
"You weren't afraid because you were standing at the
head of the corpse."
"It had nae heid, doctor" — politely.
"Be careful, my man," warned the Fiscal; "you're
in a court just now. Don't indulge in facetious
expressions."
"Well, where the head should have been" — Maclean's
tone was touchy —" and you saw the tail of the eel."
" 'What! what! what, doctor! " ejaculated Willie
Allan.
"Silence! " commanded the Fiscal.
Maclean touched with his boot the dead fish, on which
Queebec's eyes were riveted. " I found this inside the
body, alive. Mr. Strang knew it was there. He ought
to have told these men."
The Fiscal looked at Gillespie with a severe face.
"Do you hear, sir?"
Gillispie's ruddy face paled.
"It served them right," he said doggedly, "for their
dirty trick." He collected himself. "I was goin' to
tell them when Queebec struck me."
"You were too late," said the Fiscal drily.
"Too late to bring the dead to life," Maclean said
musingly.
The Fiscal addressed Gillespie.
"I cannot, sir, bring you under the penalty of the
law for what you failed to do, but I have no words to
express my sense of your vicious conduct. You wished
to pose as a man of courage. You were an affant
coward, a bigger coward than this man who was afraid.
In my opinion a man's death lies morally at your door.
The law, unfortunately, cannot punish you. I leave
you in the hands of God." The Fiscal spoke with a severe,
unstudied simplicity, which deeply affected his hearers.
"Are ye feenished wi' me?" Gillespie asked with
a veiled sneer. "I'm thrang the day, after being laid
up yesterday wi' assault."
"I am, sir; and I hope I shall never have to do with
you again."
"If you hae," answered Gillespie, unabashed, "I
expec' Queebec 'ill be to blame again," and casting a
venomous glance at the doctor, he turned and left the
store. Little did Gillespie know under what terrible
circumstances he would face the Procurator-Fiscal
again.
"Well, gentlemen, we're finished. I thank you for
your attendance. I need scarcely impress upon you the
advisability of keeping silence about what we have
heard. The death of Andrew Rodgers is due to misadventure.
The death of this man" — the Fiscal stopped
and regarded the headless trunk — "Alec" — he lifted his
eyes to the doctor's face — "what do you think severed
the head?"
Before the doctor could speak, Tamar Lusk quavered:
"I expec', my lord, he got a kick wi' the propeller."
Ah, yes! I see. You'll incorporate that, Alec, in
your report for his lordship."
The doctor nodded.
Willie Allan picked up the dead eel by the tail, and
going to the back door, flung it far out into the sea.
The local weekly paper, on the following Saturday,
had a paragraph headed in large type:
"THE MYSTERY OF THE BRIESTON
CURING-SHED
"One of the strangest events which has happened
within living memory, occurred at Brieston last
Friday night. Some line fishermen, on lifting their
lines, brought up the body of a man without a head,
who is supposed to have fallen out of a Clyde steamer,
and was decapitated by the propeller. In attempting
to get their gruesome find into the curing-shed of
Mr. Gillespie Strang, the well-known merchant, one
of the fishermen, Mr. Andrew Rodgers, lost his
balance and fell into the water. Before the other
two men could get down to his rescue from the store
the unfortunate man had disappeared. He was
wearing big sea-boots at the time, which accounts
for the swiftness with which he was drowned. The
sad event has cast a deep gloom over all the town,
of which Mr. Rodgers was an esteemed and highly
respected native. He leaves a widow and a son, to
whom the profoundest sympathy is extended. The
two victims of the sea were buried yesterday. The
funeral procession was a very large and impressive
one.
"At the inquiry, which was held on Saturday by
the Procurator-Fiscal in Brieston, Mr. Rodgers's
death was found to be due to misadventure."
Brieston had at last got definite information. There
was an unprecedented sale for the issue of the local
weekly journal. Yet Brieston was not satisfied. Nothing
had been said about the well-known fact that Gillespie
had been found in the store in the early morning when he
ought to have been in bed. A cloud of suspicion rested
on Gillespie. Besides, it was known that he had left
Brieston on the day after the funeral. Where had he
gone?
Within a fortnight Gillespie was back in Brieston
with a steamer. The idea of the steamer was monstrously
simple. At the opening of the spring herring season, he
meant to buy in her and "kill the smacks." He had
been in negotiation for some time with a Glasgow firm
of brokers, who were offering him a small steamer of
some seventy tons, which had been built for the Duke
of Sutherland in the deer-stalking seasons, for the transport
of guests from one point to another. She had passed
through various hands since then, till, like a broken-down
race-horse, she had found an asylum in the Clyde. Gillespie
was not at all impressed when he was told she had
splendid cabin accommodation; but very much impressed
when the broker pointed out that a single man below
could fire her and work the engines. He had put off
clinching the bargain, hoping to wear down the broker
before the spring; but suddenly changed his mind and
bought. For two reasons: he scented that his name was
bandied about. He were best out of Brieston for the
present. But chiefly because he determined to open
up a new industry, the idea of which had obsessed his
mind for some time. During the winter, fishermen had
brought him not only whelks and cockles for sale, but
frequently some one or two hundreds of oysters. He
discovered that the fish-shops in Glasgow would sell
these oysters at half-a-crown a dozen. They were large
and excellent in quality. He entered on a brief, decisive
calculation. He had gathered from the fishermen that
oysters abounded in the Loch, and were neglected. In
the deep of winter one or two whelk-gatherers collected
what came to their hands. Gillespie went immediately
to work, and through the Fishery Officer obtained a
ninety-nine year lease of ground below high-water mark
from the Government, "for the purpose of rearing shellfish,
and beginning what it is hoped will develop into a
profitable industry on the west coast." So ran the words
in a Blue Book report of the Fishery Board. A paternal
Government gave him an easy lease — twenty-four pounds
a year.
As soon as the fishing season was over, and the first
skiffs drawn on the beach, Gillespie sent for a certain
crew, who were in his debt for stores, and for a new trawl--
net. He had had considerable hesitation, because he
had determined to sink these men in debt to the value
of their boats, but saw there was something more lucrative
in the oysters. He told them he would give them a
chance of working-off the debt during the winter. He
had had a line boat conveyed by cart to West Loch,
Brieston; they would use it, and gather oysters with
every tide. These oysters they would deposit at an
oyster-bed, which he had leased from the Government.
He would pay them at the rate of four
shillings a hundred; or rather would deduct a corresponding
amount from the debt they owed him. Sandy
the Fox would accompany them to keep count of the
oysters.
The work had been carried on steadily for three months,
and Gillespie laid the foundation of a fine oyster-bed.
He saw with provocation that part of the spawn from
this bed would inevitably float away on the waters of
the Loch, and conceived a future scheme of building
a wall round the bed, with sluices for the coming and going
of the tides. In this way he would hoard all the spawn.
He had gone to Glasgow to purchase the steamer, and to
open a connection with a fish salesman there, who would
dispose of his shell-fish. Narrow and battered, with
high wooden bulwarks, and a lean, cream-coloured
funnel, she looked the tormented ghost of a ship. The
Butler facetiously named her the Sudden Jerk.
Gillespie now fawned on every one with a sort of
angelic devilry. He offered a job as deck-hand to Andy
Rodgers's son; spoke every man fair; made them feel
more than they were. "I knew you for a man of that
kind; and again, "You're the open-handed fellow."
His touch was a cat's with sheathed claw. He was like
a man softly playing on a flute with his eye on the
audience and an obsequious hat ready. His voice was
demurring, soft — a song; and all the while his nostril
whistled — whistled as a high wind which is blowing upon
a trigger at full cock. He imagined that in the genial
sun of this duplicity Brieston was again warming towards
him. He reckoned on the gullibility of the public, and
was about to prove his reckoning correct.
CHAPTER XIX
IT was the beginning of the spring fishing season, when
the herring leave the spawning banks on the Ayrshire
coast and move north. News had reached Brieston
that at last trawling had been legalised by Act of Parliament.
A telegram conveying the momentous tidings
had been sent from London by the member for the
county to Gillespie, who had posted it up in his shop
window. Few of the crews possessed trawl-nets, for
prosecution had been severe, and heavy fines imposed,
and many of the nets confiscated. The whole fleet
would now procure nets — two hundred or thereby.
Gillespie would reduce the fifty pounds figure he had
levied when trawling had been illegal, and show himself
a man of sacrifice to meet the new conditions. At
thirty-five pounds he would still have a handsome profit.
He sat poring over his ledger with a ready reckoner at
his elbow, and after an interval of calculation, passed
into the front shop, and with secret satisfaction displayed
the telegram on the large plate-glass window.
The news gave unbounded satisfaction. The men
talked of nothing but their brighter prospects, mingling
the note of hope with objurgations on the day of the
blockade, when the Fishery Cruiser hovered like blight
upon the waters of the Loch. They recalled times when
knives had been drawn, and they had even been fired
upon, and the trawl-riots, the title-deeds of the town, had
been concealed in garrets, beneath beds, in sheds and
hen-houses. Sunday was the chief day for searching by
the Government men. Peggy More, exasperated, had
attacked one of the marauders with a stool.
"Sparrow-hawk," she cried, "herryin' the nest;" and
felled him with a blow on the head. When she was
arrested, a hue-and-cry was raised that war was being
waged on women. The business became more ominous
when Watty Foster flung down his reins, and the news
that Peggy More had given birth prematurely to a child
in Ardmarkie jail. The news had gone like fire through
straw. Men forgot to go home to eat, and in the greater
feud lesser enmities were forgotten. The following
Sunday a search was being made. The men came out
of church about eight in the evening to find that the
spring-tide, pushed by a sou'-east gale, was deep in Harbour
Street. Wading in the water, they attacked the Government
men, and women, incensed because of the fate of
Peggy More, ran out, armed with pokers, stools, and the
like, and joined the fight in the tide. The scrimmage
became notorious. Wasps in the House of Commons
stung the Government. The authorities in London,
thinking the ill-feeling widespread and dangerous, and
perplexed with other more vital concerns, restored peace
by legalising trawling. Peggy More was released and
given an ovation.
It got abroad — no one knew how — that Gillespie was
at the bottom of these happier events, having made
representations to the member for the county. Gillespie,
again elevated to a pinnacle of prestige, walked down
the middle of the street with high head.
Such pedestrianism was significant, for Gillespie had
something in him of the animal which, when hurt or
threatened, crouches out of sight. The circumstances
attending the death of Andrew Rodgers were forgotten.
The wilder public surmise is, the sooner does speculation
cease, as flame blazes through tinder. The imagination
of the public had been ill-fed on a garbled newspaper
report; the reaction to which mental fatigue gives rise set
in, and the mind of the people, lying fallow through a winter
of monotonous existence, was prepared to receive a
sowing of new seed when Gillespie affixed the notable
telegram to his shop window.
Eccentricities are a comic play-acting in life, offered
by the fatuous or by men vainglorious of a cheap notoriety
to a stultified or to a half-lethargic people, and are noticed
as a wave is observed on a sea of immoderate calm; but
in the beginning of new epochs personal idiosyncrasies
are lost sight of, as the wave is indistinguishable in a sea
lashed by tempest. Thus we find Gillespie come abroad
from obscurity in his old eccentric walk in the middle
of the street. Other men walked on the pavements, in
the shadow of the houses. In the larger interests of
legalised trawling his appearance was gratefully accepted.
He had come out from a cloud, and took a larger place
than ever in the eye of the town. Humanity is prone
to steal omens anywhere, and Gillespie incited the men
with hopes of a splendid season under the ægis of Government.
They took fire, and became instant upon preparation.
Trawl-nets were ordered, and crews of eight men
to occupy the two "company" boats necessary for trawling
operations were formed. For initiative and enterprise
it was held that between the East Sea and West Sea of
Scotland Gillespie had not his equal. His spirit moved
the town, and his ill-fame suffered euthanasia in the
sound of the scraper heard over all the beaches. The
skiffs were being scraped, tarred, and varnished. Morning
after morning the men came out of their deep-doored
houses and made the beaches, the Quays, and the barking--
houses loud and merry. A dead season gave up its
ensigns of ballast, chains, ropes, sails, buoys, and oars,
which littered the beaches and the foreshores. The
town had a deserted appearance. The previous week the
beaches were empty; the famous telegram came as with
the snarl of trumpets, and the crunching of gravel on
the beaches and the noise of the boat-scrapers were a
Te Deum.
"There'll be many a cobweb brushed away this week,"
said Mary Bunch at the Pump. Forgotten now are
moonless nights, and the ghostly snow-showers blinding
the shores; blistered fingers and raw sea-wounds. There
is a sound of singing — the sailing-songs of their sires —
around the inlets and creeks and pleasant gardens of
the sea. The boats are about to leave their gravelly
nurseries for the blue balcony of the Harbour. Some of
the men are painting the numbers on the bows of the
skiffs — those deft of hand; others dragging nets in
barrows from the hibernating stores of Gillespie; a rich
savour of melting tar is in all the beaches, where the iron
braziers are blazing with fire; sails and nets are being
barked; oars, ballast, water-casks, cran baskets, anchors,
chains, the big jib for fair weather, and the little jib for
a reefed breeze all being stowed away. The traveller
is greased against the mast; halyards are replaced, and
sheet ropes spliced and tarred. Rattle, clink, roar of
material; gust and ripple of talk; merriment and
laughter; sea-boys coiling ropes; barrows and lorries
butting each other, and irascible drivers vituperating
in the vain language of the stable.
In the fulness of time the skiffs are ready, and laying
their shoulders to the flanks and the curve of the stern,
with a shout the men drive them down the glittering
beach, and take them to their anchorage in the Harbour.
On that night the sea-boys parade the town.
"An' we are beatin' in the dark all up the Kerry shore,
Mi boys,
Where yon long seas do roar, mi boys,
An' are white wi' dead men's bones — "
The song swells over the Harbour. Its like has been
sung by many disciples of the sea, hardy men on famous
ships: the song of daring mingled with sorrow for brave
lives lost outside the harbours of the world, which all
shipmen on all seas have known; and now brought
home to this fag-end of a beach and bare sea-town,
prepared to engage the seas on the strength of a message
from London.
There falls upon the grey town at sunset a shining
peace. A little wind blows in from the sea. The fleet,
swung round into its eye, is peering out of the harbour
mouth. The town from the Barracks to the
"Shipping Box" is very quiet. A benign influence is
abroad. Blue smoke slants up as from altars. The hills
are ablaze with whin. The men stand looking out upon
the boats, virgin yet of herring-scale, and smoke in silence.
There is upon them a sense of hope about to be fulfilled;
a sense of the replenishing and moving of the waters.
In the little wind from the sea the sign of the dagger
at the "Ghost" is mournfully creaking. This wind cools
the face of Gillespie. He had been delving into his
books, and came on a note of a loan of hundreds of pounds
received from his father, who had stupidly quarrelled
with him over a business of selling on Sundays. Gillespie
was not likely to be troubled about this loan. All day
he had laboured at his books, entering in the long lists
of nets, ropes, tar, and such-like gear, which he had sold,
and stood now at the close-mouth beneath the stars in
the cooling wind, looking at a forest of masts in the
Harbour, raking in little drunken jerks across a patch of
sky. On Monday the fleet would clear — "my fleet," he
thought, with a faint smile of benevolence — and determined
to have the Sudden Jerk prepared for sea on
Monday. As he was about to turn up the close, he
heard a familiar stump, stump, on the pavement.
Traiveller Jeck appeared, and was about to speak, when,
seeing he had made a mistake, he continued stumping.
Gillespie detained him.
"You hae some skill o' boats, Jeck, my man."
"I was up the Mediterranean a dozen times."
"I'll gie ye a job on my herrin' steamer, if yell tek'
it."
"Catch me refusing a loaf."
"Be doon then, brisk an' early wi' the morn's ebb,
an' get her on the beach. Her bottom ill need a bit
scrape. I want her oot by Monday."
Thus it was that on Saturday Brieston learned that
the old days of depending on the buyers in the smacks
were over. Gillespie was going to wait upon them with
steam.
CHAPTER XX
GILLESPIE could forecast many of the events which
depended for their occurrence on the caprice or desires
of men, but the mysterious workings of the laws of
Nature were beyond his cunning. The herring fishing
was a failure. The first week some few dozen boxes of
small, immature herrings were fished; but since then
barren night gave way to dreary morning, till — "I'm not
goin' oot again," said old Sandy; "we reinged the bights
a' last month, and never saw a scale."
This and that reason was alleged, till slowly it was
borne in on the men that "trawling" was ruining the
industry. Such constant raking of the Loch with large
"trawls," had split up the great "eyes" of herring, just
when they had come up from the spawning banks of
Ayrshire, and had driven them back again.
"It stands to reason," said old Sandy, "wi' the drifts
we lay quate a' night at anchor, an' the fish came into
the shore, but noo wi' this trawlin', big boats an' nets
hammerin' on the top o' the herrin' a' night long, no
fish wad stand it."
"Hoo are ye, Sanny?" cried Gillespie, passing.
"My health's good, thank Goäd, but I'm in very
reduced circumstances."
Soon the town began to feel the pinch.
"Boys," said the Bent Preen, at the "Shipping Box,"
"I've kent trouble. I've seen my faither, that's deid
an' gone, greetin' wance in the middle o' the day; but
thon was noathin' to this." Yet the Bent Preen had
less cause for complaint than most, for he had no family,
and his wife had said to him no later than that morning,
when about to set out to a washing at the Banker's,
"Mony's a bit turn a wumman can do that a man canna,
an' win a shullin' thae hard times."
In more important quarters the matter was discussed.
Willie Allan, Campion the schoolmaster, Dr. Maclean, the
Banker, and Lonend's father, were seated in Brodie's
back parlour. Brodie himself, Willie Allan, Dr. Maclean,
and the Banker were members of the Parish Council.
Campion had suggested that the Council might offer
work to the more hardly hit.
"There's too much fuss," said the Butler, frowning,
"far too much fuss made with this world — parish
councils and school boards and football matches — an'
no' half enough preparing for eternity." By which
deliverance his cronies knew the Butler to be fairly deep
in liquor. "No wonder there's hard times with a tea--
drinking generation that bows down the knee to Gillespie
Strang."
"How's that?" asked Maclean, laughing uproariously.
"They haven't got the stuff in them now-a-days,
doctor, to go and look for herring. There was a day
when every house in Brieston — and good thatch houses
they were — was bursting with meat. We could lock the
door, doctor, and no need to go out and buy anything
but tobacco."
"And whisky," said Campion.
The Butler's eyes gleamed with silent laughter.
"Ay! of course, and whisky from our friend Brodie
here. There's nothing like whisky for softening leather.
But that's the way it was. The pig would be killed and
the hams hanging from hooks; a barrel of braxy behind
the door; a barrel at the window full of meal; another
with flour; and a barrel o' salt herring an' a bag o' potatoes
below the bed. The Arran smacks came in with cargoes
of potatoes and coals, so cheap you were almost ashamed
to buy. Now what is it?"
"A dark, misty day" — from Campion.
"Ay! ay! the weemin run to Gillespie for a pickle
tea and sugar, an' steek their lug at the fire-end, waiting
on the tea to mask, and sitting with a bowl in their hand,
like the giraffes I saw in my travels with the Laird,
stretching out their long necks to drink. No wonder the
weemin's yellow in the face and Brieston's on the rocks.
I tell ye," he roared, smacking the table with his fist,
"it's tea, Gillespie's China tea, that's playing Old Harry
with the town. Let the folk eat plenty o' braxy an'
bannocks, porridge an' pease-meal, an' soor dook an'
salt herring, an' I'll wager ye Gillespie can go for a living
to Skye, an' every lassie will have two men running after
her. Ach, Nellie! Nellie!" he shouted, "bring in a drink;
I'm dry. Gillespie's name in my mouth always leaves
me dry — the obnoxious rag; he's too cold and frosty
a man for me."
"He's pretty near," said Campion.
"Ay," grunted the Butler, "it's my granddaughter
can tell you that."
Campion coloured, and said nothing.
Nellie, Brodie's daughter, popped a tousled head in
at the door. She had a half-knitted stocking in her
hand, and stifling a yawn, shook her head at the Butler.
"No more," she said; "ten o'clock, gentlemen."
Brodie frowned. He hated ten o'clock when the
company was good. They all disregarded Nellie, except
by looks of menace.
Presently the door was again opened, and the voice
thrust in upon them — a strident female, ranged with the
law, against the comfort of the chief men of the town.
"After ten o'clock, gentlemen."
"Ach! Nellie, ye bitch," wheezed Brodie, and they
all knew then that they had to go from the "bien couthie"
place and the warm talk.
They passed out into Harbour Street, into a thin, raw
rain. Three men — James Murray and his two sons —
passed to the house where Murray's mother lay dead, to
see that all was well with the body for the night.
"They found her deid in bed," said Willie Allan,
looking at the doctor.
Maclean's hand went up to his moustache. "Heart
gave way; want of food," he said.
"Good God!" ejaculated Campion; "and look at that!"
A middle-aged man, with a scrub of dark-grey hair
and eyebrows bunched in tufts, staggered over to Brodie's
closed door and pounded it with his fists.
"Who's there?" came the well-known wheeze; "away
home! it's aifter ten o'clock."
"It's me, Brodie, yeer freen' Jonnie."
"Oot o' there, ye tinkler, hooever ye are."
"Ye might let a freen' in a meenut; I'm only wantin'
change for the plate the morn."
Willie Allan and his friends stood listening. Up the
street a little, at the shoemaker's one-storey house, which
stood by itself on the Harbour wall, a company of
"Revivalists" was singing a hymn:
"There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold."
— the words drifted down the wind — blown through the
rain to them.
"One dies of starvation," said Campion loudly, "and
one has money in his hands, pushing in at the doors of
hell; and ninety and nine are safe in the fold."
These doors at that moment received a vindictive
kick. Presently one of the long, narrow leaves was flung
open, and a purple face was thrust out. "Get oot o'
here, ye blaiggart, or I'll knock the guts oot o' ye!" The
man was violently shoved off the pavement, and the door
was clapped to. After some circumnavigation with his
mouth, he found the key-hole.
"That's the sort ye are, Brodie. Ye'll kiss oor back--
side afore ten o'clock an' kick it aifter."
The man lurched over to the group.
As sure as my faither wore the tartan — I'sh — hic —
join the Goo' Templsh — an' — hic — buy a plair — o' —
gallush — A' grudged — hic — grudged 'em when I — wash
— booze
"Blind and miserable, sick and naked. Oh, for
God's sake, let's get away from here!" cried Campion.
They moved up the street in a body. At the shoemaker's
house, on the breast wall near the Square, which
was blazing with light, stood the Revivalist meeting.
A strange and moving sight met their glance. On the
edge of the ring was Queebec, his white head bare to the
rain, facing the Square and the fishermen assembled at
"Gillespie's corner," and at the Medical Hall. In a loud,
screeching voice, he was telling of his visitation by the
Lord, and was warning all men against the evils of drink,
of bad living, of revenge and greed. His eyes were
flashing; long wisps of thin hair were blown about his
face. Three men he openly denounced — the Receiver of
Wrecks of the "Anchor Hotel," Brodie, and Gillespie
Strang.
"Spawn of the devil they are, and Gillespie Strang is
anti-Christ. Robbers and plunderers of the town they
are." Zeal ate him up, as he shook the rain from his
piteous white head, and uttered libel with glowing hatred
"Too long I have been in the tents of sin," he cried
"and I have paid the price and the penalty; and now
I warn you men of Brieston. Do you think the Lord is
for ever going to give you herring to be drinking, and you
giving it to a thief an' a robber like Gillespie Strang.
I tell ye, the curse o' God fell on me. Look at my white
head, all in a night." He tossed his head, and swung
round from side to side, facing the three sides of the
Square. "And it'll fall on Brieston too. Can ye expect
to get herring to feed publicans and robbers?" He
spread out his hands; his voice rose to a scream. "The
sea that should feed you shall rot your boats. Blight
and mildew shall devour them. God will make a worm
to destroy them like Jonah's gourd." There was a
gloomy grandeur in the appearance of the man. His
eye burned with a prophetic light. "Woe! woe!!
woe!!! I see it. Woe! woe!! woe!!! to this town,
whoever will live to see it." Foaming and panting and
hunched up at the shoulders, he fell back, and the silence
was solemnly broken by a deep-throated Amen from
a man in spectacles, who stepped forward to announce
the hymn:
"Lo! He comes in clouds descending."
"He's right," said the Butler vehemently, "about
Gillespie Strang and the Receiver of Wrecks. I don't
know what I'm to think if I'm to be lost, and be in hell
with folk I wouldn't speak to here — boozers an' scandal--
mongers, an' liars, an' thieves, and all the riff-raff o' dirty
livers an' rascals. My place is with gentlemen. Is it fair
that I'm to be pitched in among folk I wouldn't nod to
on the other side of the street, or give back an answer if
they said it's a fine day or it's scoory weather?"
They turned across the Square in the direction of the
Medical Hall, whose large green and red bottles, a yard
high in the window, relieved the greyness of the rainy
night.
"Who is the preacher?" asked Campion, as they stood
in front of the door of the Medical Hall; "his face was
like the face of a lost angel!"
"He is a man who will soon be mad," answered
Dr. Maclean sadly. He saw Kyle, his chemist, beckoning
to him from the shop, and nodded. "Gillespie's cup is
filling up. Good-night, gentlemen." And entering the
shop, he stood gravely listening to his chemist.
"What does the doctor mean?" asked Campion.
"He means what poor Queebec means, by God: ay!
his cup is filling up." The Butler's voice boomed away
into the blurred greyness of the weeping night.
Campion was distinctly uneasy. "Ugh!" — he shivered
at the thought — "these Hielan' folk live and move and
have their being in superstition. All the same, I don't
like it. I'll cut her."
Thus Mrs. Strang lost her lover.
CHAPTER XXI
ALL the spring it blew persistently in easterly gales
which darkened the land. To this, in turn, was attributed
the failure of the herring fishing. There was hardly a
day in which the men could put the bow of a boat over
the Harbour mouth. At last the easterly gales died
away; and summer suddenly blazed down from a sky
of brass.
"This heat will bring the herring to the shore," it
was said; but morning after morning the boats returned
empty, till the conviction was forced upon Brieston that
there was not a herring in that glassy, green, beautiful
Loch. The firmament was laid in bands of blue steel.
Inch by inch the awful heat crept up over the land,
smiting it as with searing irons to brown, yellow, white,
and in the end, when children began to die, to an appalling
black.
The streams around Lonend and Muirhead shrunk.
Lochan Dhu, in the hills, sobbed out its life to the water--
lilies. The pools and marshes became black hollows,
and the shallow head of West Loch Brieston was leprous
with dry salt. Far up the head streams, where the damp
nests of green things are, the juniper fell in dry twigs,
the heather was ablaze, and a great smoke hung on the
hills. The grasses curled into wires; the mosses melted
off the dikes; the stalks of the hardy sea-pinks wilted
under their burden; the wild rosebushes were gaunt
with thorns; and the roads and tracks on the hill-lands
preserved, as if cast in iron, every mark.
The hillsides above the town lifted their bare rocks,
quivering and grey, like bones in a fantastic body, and
were deserted of birds which haunted the river-sides for
frogs.
The tamer animals went back to a wilder nature. Pigs
and dogs went rooting about, and the sheep fainted on the
moor, which was whitened with the skeletons of birds, or
lay down, a prey to flies and ravens, in the parched fields.
The heron had wailed away in a stringing flight into the
north, seeking the rains in the Hebrides. The only sound
of bird-life was the moaning of wild doves in the gloom
of the pines below Muirhead. The land was dumb save
for that sound and the burden of the grasshopper, which
spun the heat into a maddening noise as of wires.
The sea slouched in its oily calm, silent and glassy,
until "the very deep did rot."
Dawn by dawn the sun flamed forth like a sword; the
sky was a white-hot sheet of steel, raining down blistering
fire. At night the big stars throbbed in the dark-blue
vault, and reeled in their courses.
At last a lean blue gap of mud stretched across the
head of West Loch Brieston, where the Brieston river
used to run. The land shrunk; dust rose into the sun
in the faint puffs of veering wind, till the crude glare was
of brass. A furnace boiled in the sky at noon, as if the
veil of the atmosphere had been rent away. The very
shadows on the Brieston streets fled, as if seeking shelter
from that dizzy glare.
Men, thin, white-faced, bleached, with swollen and
cracked lips, scanned the heavens by day and searched
the clear stars by night, when the tortured earth gave back
its heat to the parched air. In the houses the children
panted and moaned, and the women forbore at length,
from weakness, to rub the sweat from their infants' faces.
The hills began swinging to the drone of the grasshoppers.
The islands of the Loch rose up and floated in
the air, cool with a long ecstasy of rippling water.
Children began to die; women raved in the low-roofed
houses of the Back Street; the men took turns at the
Pump, standing in line waiting with the empty stoups
sheltering their heads. In the adamant of the hills
dwelt an unearthly silence, beneath the dry summer
lightning which flickered from peak to peak. The thunder
ran moaning and rumbling out to sea, and died away
like the whimper of far trumpets.
The atmosphere went mad, rising and falling in a
great wave beneath the furnace of the sky. The horizon
was ringed with a hard red in the evenings, and twenty
suns danced and slid over the sky.
The men no longer lifted their bleared eyes upwards.
Their brains ached with the heat. The bones stood out
on their bodies. They lay all day in a stupor till the
tardy twilight came, and the sun sank in the sea like
a great autumnal leaf falling on a loch.
One Sunday a derelict came in on the tide, struck end
on at the Perch in the Harbour mouth, spun about in the
tide-rip, sagged across to the Island, and drifted in a
drunken fashion up the Harbour. She fell foul of one of
the fishing-skiffs, cleared and crawled, a tall, mysterious,
dark ship, up to the breast-wall in front of the Square.
When the tide ebbed she careened over against the wall,
her long, tapering masts stretching out upon the Square.
On her broad stern-counter in faded letters of gold was
the name Flor Del Mar. Her cordage was in rags; her
foresail hung idly in the windless air; her deck was
deserted. Gillespie and Rory Campbell, the policeman,
boarded her. In the cabin they found a black-bearded
man lying in a bunk dead. Lines of extreme pain were
graved on his face, and his lips were drawn back from
fine white teeth in a half grin, a half snarl. On the floor
a dead boy lay twisted up. In the forecastle they found
two others, who had plainly died in agony. In the
cabin there was a large cane with two canaries. Gillespie
looted the cabin, and established the birds, which were
alive, in the shop.
Campbell crossed the Square for the doctor, who
appeared in a white pith helmet. He looked at the silent
occupants of the cabin. "Plague," he said.
The policeman's face went white.
"Constable," continued Maclean dispassionately, "go
to Osborne the ironmonger, and get a charge of dynamite.
Blow up the ship at once, or the graveyard will be the
busiest place in Brieston."
Campbell sweated profusely.
"What ails ye, man?" asked Maclean irritably.
"I'm no likin' the chob at aal."
"Go home," said the doctor sternly, "and lock yourself
in a cell; maybe you'll lock death out. I'll remember
you from this day as a coward." The doctor pointed to
the companion-way. "Go!" The policeman slunk up the
stair. The doctor shouted to Gillespie, who came down
the companion-way whistling sharply in his nostrils.
Maclean pointed to the black face grinning in the bunk.
"There's a cloud of calamity hanging over Brieston.
Go to Osborne's for dynamite, and help me to blow up
this coffin."
Gillespie demurred. "There's a pickle salvage here,"
he said suavely.
"It will be gathered with a sickle," replied Maclean,
"in the hands of the Angel of Death. The atmosphere
badly tainted. Your life is in far graver danger here
than it was when Andy Rodgers and you met in the
store." Maclean fixed Gillespie with a steady gaze, and
saw him become livid. "I'll wait here till you get the
dynamite."
"It's no' my business," muttered Gillespie; "the
owners might sue for damages."
"It will have to be at the hands of the Almighty;"
again Maclean pointed to the companion-way. "Go
and lock yourself up in your house; p'r'aps you will lock
out the plague."
Gillespie paused irresolute. Greed warred in him
with fear.
"Do you believe in God?" asked Maclean quietly.
"You're jokin', doctor."
"No! I'm in earnest. This is His day, Sunday, and
this is His messenger." He nodded to the dead huddled
boy. "If you can't blow up the ship, go home and get
on your knees."
Gillespie retreated, followed by the doctor. On the
breast-wall he spoke to Maclean.
"Is there anything I can tak', doctor?" His knees
trembled. He seemed in a state of collapse.
"Go home, man, go home, and get drunk on brandy."
For the first time since the night of his marriage,
Gillespie drank in his own house. Towards evening,
Topsail Janet purloined the half empty bottle; and
that night Gillespie's wife lay by his side drunk.
Dr. Maclean told Osborne, a man with a large bald
head and deep-sunken, smouldering eyes.
"It's best face to Greenock, this time, doctor," he
he said.
Preceded by Maclean, Osborne carried a keg of gunpowder
through the Square. A crowd had gathered
round the breast-wall, gaping on the silent ship.
"Back!" cried Maclean, in a ringing voice; "back
out of here! There's plague and death in this ship."
A bowed man with thin, white hair elbowed his way
through the crowd, an open Bible in his hand. In rapid
tones he began reading, his voice gradually rising to
a scream. "The seed is rotten under their clods, the
garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down;
for the corn is withered.'" In the still air, under the blazing
sky, every word of Queebec's was clear as a bell.
"'How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are
perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks
of sheep are made desolate.'" His flashing eyes swept the
crowd. "'The fire of heaven,'" he cried, "'hath devoured
the pastures, and the flame hath burned all the trees
of the field.'" He shook the Bible aloft, chanting the
words of terror over which he had pondered through the
scorching weeks. "'The beasts of the field cry also unto
Thee; for the rivers of waters are dried up.'"
"He's mad," said Osborne to the doctor, who was
holding out his arms to receive the keg of gunpowder.
"Ay," said Maclean, leaning forward with the keg in
his hands, "God has made him mad."
"'A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds
and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the
mountains.'" The lean arm was stretched out upon the
fascinated crowd. "'Run to and fro; death shall enter
in at the windows like a thief.'"
"Shut up!" a deep voice of anger growled in the crowd,
which began to sway in a great wave.
"You cannot shut up the voice of the Lord," screamed
Queebec; "hear it: 'The earth shall quake, the heavens
shall tremble; the sun and the moon shall be dark, and
the stars shall withdraw their shining.'"
"Throw him into the Barbour!" a voice yelled. The
crowd oscillated violently and surged forward.
"No, but throw Gillespie Strang and Brodie into the
Harbour, the wolves of the town. 'Woe! woe! in
the earth; blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The
sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into
blood —'"
A hand was suddenly clapped over Queebec's mouth,
the Bible was torn from his grasp; a low-throated
snarl burst from the crowd; it heaved forward, baying,
and the white head went down in the rush.
Maclean appeared at the cabin door carrying the
shoulders of a dead man. The crowd became still.
The waves out of a vast, silent eternity washed over them.
One, two, three, four, five bodies were brought ashore.
Honour to the ironmonger. As for Maclean, it was his
duty. "Back!" he roared, "back for your lives!"
He leaped ashore, followed by Osborne. "Back, you
men!" he shouted.
The people surged slowly backwards against the wall
of Gillespie's house, the Bank, and the Medical Hall,
where they waited in tense silence. Suddenly a scream
was heard. "Look at him, the wolf!" Queebec's long
arm pointed upwards. Just as the eyes of the crowd
fell on Gillespie standing at his parlour window, a red
tongue of flame stabbed the air. The ship rocked and
heaved as if on a huge roller. A cloud of dark-greenish
smoke, bathed in the heart with flame, rocked upwards
in the midst of a deafening roar; splinters shot up into
the air; the column of smoke curled lazily upwards,
venomous with poison, and a belt of light spread along
the breast-wall. There was a splitting of glass — the
windows in Gillespie's shop and house were smashed.
Silently they watched the wrecked ship blaze. The heat
became intense. The crowd backed away into the lane at
the Bank, and up the west brae towards the Post Office.
"Fire to burn and to cleanse," screamed Queebec;
"fire to purge the sins of Gillespie." And many in the
crowd in after days recalled those wild words of a madman.
"It'll maybe burn out the plague," Maclean said
grimly to Osborne; "if not I shall never get my boots off;"
and he entered his house, taking Queebec with him by
the shoulder. A black fog hung over the Harbour all
that day. On the morrow Campbell's wife was down
with the plague. In two days she was dead, and her
face turned black. Swiftly the plague ran its course.
A curious circumstance was that children were immune.
People refused to lay out and wash the dead, and Stuart
denied them the last offices. The sailmaker and Queebec
fearlessly took his place. A Sheriff-Officer from Ardmarkie,
a man with a loud, booming voice, that could be
heard far away in the stillness of that burned, plague--
haunted town, came to bury the dead. The funeral
procession was invariably composed of the same men —
the Sheriff-Officer and the sailmaker, and Queebec walking
ahead, bowed over an open Bible, Willie Allan and the
Butler, Maclean, when he had the opportunity, and
Stevenson the undertaker, a red, silent man. In that
day of quiet heroes, none displayed such heroism as he.
Over the door of his joiner's shed, to this day, can be
seen the model of a coffin in oak, like a sign. He was
young then, and of a shaggy, fierce appearance, taciturn,
a hard worker, making as many as six coffins in a day of
eighteen hours. He was like a shadow, slipping through
the streets, hatless, in his shirt-sleeves, and bare of foot.
He dragged the fallen off the streets, and coffined them
afterwards. His wife haggled in grief-stricken homes
for the coffin money, because of her husband's enormous
expense for planks, till he lifted his gnarled hand upon her.
The time came when he had to make a coffin for her also
— taciturn then beyond his wont, and swearing at the
wailing of her kinswomen. At all hours he was seen
bearing a coffin, sometimes with the help of the sail--
maker, sometimes with that of the Sheriff-Officer, passing
on in the dawn after a night of toil to those to whom the
dawn would never arise again. Most solemn he appeared
then, beneath the scarlet arch of morning, uncertain
whether the evening would find him on his feet. Quid
vesper vehat, incertum est.
"The sea will never drown another man in Brieston,"
the Sheriff-Officer said to him one morning; "the plague
will get them all."
"Who kens?" he answered, shaking his head, and
looking at the row of masts which leaned over against
the blank windows of the sleeping houses. The wind
will blow again and the keels toss upwards to the stars,
and the cordage be broken in the tempest. To-day
the ships alone have security, and the undertaker passes
on to meet the Black Death. Nothing can withstand him.
In burning weather or in boisterous, he awaits all things.
This usher to Eternity, this gleaner where the last sickle
gleams and swings, is aware that if to-day the ballasted
boats securely make an anchorage, to-morrow they shall
enter into the storm — contemptible toys with their hard--
won revenues spilled upon the waves, and their patrimony
dismantled and devoured; and he, vigilant upon the
shore, the wayfarer who goes to the grave-mouth and
returns, shall take the dead and bring them upon their
last voyage into the haven, with their cares and vexations
at an end, upon his rude, unrigged deal plank.
They passed through the town to the Quay. Willie
Allan was dead. Stevenson did his offices silently. At
noon they came to bury him.
"Good-bye, friend," said Stevenson, and screwed down
the lid. In his shirt sleeves he helped to bear forth the
coffin. They laid it at the door. There was no minister.
"Men, take off your hats," for he had none. He
tapped the lid with his screw-driver.
"He's by wi't; he played the man." Then with
simple assurance, "God has his soul;" and the sail--
maker offered prayer. At the close, Stevenson signalled
to them to bear away the coffin. He was not of the
procession. Fog had delayed the luggage steamer with
his pine planks. He went with a hatchet to the wood at
West Loch Brieston for a serviceable tree. That night
Stevenson stood shoeless and hatless at his door, like a
famished eagle, wasted with fatigue and want of sleep.
There was a white wheel about the moon, and trailing
over her cold splendour a cloud scarce bigger than a
man's hand, as if that luminary, wearied of her nightly
torture of vision on the racked earth, had dragged up
from the unrelenting deep one gleam of mercy. A little
purging wind blew from the south-west. The undertaker
held up his head and sniffed. "There's a smell of rain,"
he muttered; and he knew that his day was over, his
destiny fulfilled. The end of death was for him the end
of real life. Solemnly he contemplated the stars becoming
dimmer in the skies, as the moist wind freshened, and
he thought of Willie Allan and the strangeness of Fate.
Only to-day he was buried; and to-night the rains were
creeping in from the ocean.
Towards midnight the wind snapped and blew in
fierce scurries, and thunder slowly rolled in the hills.
Zp-p! Zip! a flash tore across the vault, lambent,
reddish; crash! came the answering roar. Queebec
was at his door, telling mortals that God reigned, and His
voice was riding the storm. A dumbness brooded over
the earth as the last peal rolled away into the reverberate
hills. The stifling air palpitated. Again a jagged bolt,
red-hot, leapt out of the south-west, baring the firmament
and spread in a blinding flame over Brieston, whose
houses stood out sharp and pale along the Harbour front.
Again the high artillery of the skies thundered and
growled. The flash had opened the sluices of heaven.
Slowly the rain began to fall in great burning drops, and
the women crawled to their doors holding out famished
hands.
The lightning winked; and heaven opened in a lake
of flame. The earth shook; and a blind rush of rain
ran in a white scurry along the streets, and reared a grey
veil along the Harbour's face. Again and again the lightning
lit the sky in splatches of blue and green and white.
The rain rang out of the dark. Gusts leapt in thunder
off the roofs.
In the morning it was still raining gently. Three
rainbows were drawn against the sky. Over the wet
windows a procession of drops of water passed. It was
as the procession of those who had died of the Black
Plague. They had come a moment upon the glass of
Life and disappeared, some soiling the glass, others
behind, cleansing it a little. The sun sparkled like silver
upon the wet roofs.
You will not find Stevenson in Brieston now. He
lived, a widower, alone, old, and forgotten, dreaming on
winter nights of the days when the terror-stricken made
way for him as for an emperor. His house was poor,
and he shabby. Many families owed him a debt of
honour for unpaid coffins. He lies not far from Maclean,
and on his tombstone are these words:
"Here lies one who feared death as little as he loved
his fellow-men greatly. He has entered into his rest."
CHAPTER XXII
EVERY one took heart when the rains broke, deeming
the days of disaster to be over. Crews were formed
again, for many who should have put to sea were now
beyond all chances of fortune and mischances of storm.
Gillespie had furnished the fleet with provisions. "There's
nothing in the world like the joy o' teasin' tobacco again
in your palm as ye sit on the gunwale, feelin' the big
sea-boots in the crook o' the knee," said old Sandy.
His faded eyes looked abroad, and saw two hundred
brown sails towering on the Loch going north, south,
and east to search the bights. Overhead the solans were
sailing out of the north in the sharp, blue void, their
pirate heads and yellow necks gleaming in the sun.
Down all the shore the boats came to anchor till sunset,
for there is a law against daylight fishing. In this
peaceful hour of the evening watch, when tea was over,
the drift smoke of the fleet hung aloft like another blue
sea. The men were stretched out on the beams with
that negligent grace which no landsman can wholly
attain. Here and there one or two were busy on little
jobs — putting a new piece of leather on an oar, splicing
a rope, or mending their nets. Somewhere a blackbird
fluted its evensong in the bushes. The mellow note
died away and stillness gripped the woods, the beaches,
and the darkling sea. Far off there was a soft sound
of hill-waters running. The elder men dovered in the
grey shadows.
Suddenly the snore of a sounding whale broke the
silence. The anchors were lifted, and boat after boat
stole out from the shadows. Every man was listening.
It was in their blood to listen. The "plout" of one
leaping herring might betray millions of its fellows swimming
in the dark depths below. As the boats drew
further out, the sails were hoisted to the gentle breeze,
and one man in every boat stood up on the forecastle
head the better to listen. There was something wolfishly
intent in his tense body and pricked ears. He stood out
a speck bending over the deep; a point of life scrutinising
gigantic, imperturbable Nature, that had in its bosom the
means of making the hearth bright and cheering the
familiar things of the cot. The sea jealously guards her
treasure; but always there is an armour joint which the
sentinel speck finds. In the ambush of hope he waits
vigilant till the unwary deep opens her guard, and in a flash
the sword of his necessity is buried deep in her wealth.
The boats drifted south on the tide, moving like
ghosts, and the little sentinel specks on the forecastle
head vanished in the gloom, swallowed up of the vast
brooding immensity of sea and sky.
The breeze from the south-west freshened, cresseting
the sea, and faint voices were heard here and there from
the phantom boats.
"We'll get a wettin' the night, boys; see thon sky.
The tea's maskin' there for us."
"Ay," came the subdued answer, "it's dirty an' blacklookin'."

A louder voice called across the water: "There was a
wheel last night about the moon."
In the silence which fell the moon rose stone-cold,
and in its pale light they saw, far in the south, a long
black line stretching from shore to shore. The line grew
swiftly as they looked; came nearer in waves, like liquid
lead, rising in fiery crests of white.
"Rattle! rattle!" in the south went the halyards of
two boats.
"They're lowerin' to reef," came a voice.
"It'll be three reefs an' the wee jib soon," was answered
back.
The black line on the sea galloped up, passed north.
ward, foaming through the fleet, which it left in a grey
smother. The Loch was now loud with the creaking of
blocks, the whipping of cordage, the slatting of sails
and the hiss of brine along the forefoot.
"Scoury weather this."
"Ay! ay! an' it's no' the night only; this weather
cairry this moon oot on its back. We'll pey noo for
the long heat an' the calm." A grey driving shower
mingled of sleet and rain, slanted up like a wall. Leader
seas rolled up the Channel, filling the atmosphere beneath
the heavy sagging clouds.
"It's Blanket Bay the night, boys," a stentorian
voice rang through the screaming of the wind. These
men were not fatalists; but generations of sea-faring had
bequeathed to their blood a ready acquiescence in the
moods of Nature. There was neither note nor murmur
of rebellion as they ran reefed down to the Harbour, like
brown little animals with ears laid back scuttering to
their holes. They had encountered the "weemin's win'."
The Harbour, lying deep between two forelands and
sheltered by a long island running east and west, is
immune from the fiercest sou'-east gales, so that, however
vicious is the storm out of that airt on the Loch, the
women know nothing but an inner silent Harbour, and
are amazed to hear the boats coming in.
Like storm-beaten birds the fleet was in full flight
from the south where the Loch was now one white smoke.
The men, unable to discern the land, held high off, knowing
they would find the Harbour mouth by the lights of
Brieston, lying deep within. A piercing note rose over
the moan of the wind and yelled in the cordage. The
seas curled away like white paper. There was a greenish
light upon the Loch, relieving the pitch darkness. At
the tiller, at the pumps, at the sheet, they toiled as
gloomy headland after headland opened out and swung
behind the wet bows. The boats to windward were no
more than a mast and sail lurching and sagging across
a patch of sky. In a flock they drew in beneath the
"Ghost"; flurries of the gale followed them; but the roar
outside on the Loch died away. At the New Pier the
oars were unshipped, and to their rhythmic sweep the
boats stole in through the shadows of the Planting
below Muirhead, past the Perch and the east end of the
Island, till they anchored where the lights of Brieston
sent their long quivering reflections into the dark silent
water. The plunge of the anchors and the rattle of the
chains sounded through the town.
"What's put the men in frae the fishin' a night lik'
this?" said the Back Street women, the one to the other,
feeling on their cheek but faint airs sighing down from
the high hills.
"Ach, m'eudail," old Sandy was explaining to his
grand-daughter who kept house for him, "thon's no'
canny at the back-end o' the year, oot yonder, wi' the
seas rollin' in glens, an' dark as the grave, an' a lee--
shore on every side o' ye. I'm feart we're goin' to be
in for a hard winter, mo thruaigh."
The wind veered to the nor'west the next day. The
sky seemed torn in shreds which flew in the firmament.
The rain-blackened houses stood out starkly in the
hard gleaming light. The Harbour was full of bobbing
punts. Every man was hurrying to give his boat all
the chain in the locker. Each skiff was burying her
nose in the smother, and rip, ripping, at her chain.
The wind veered about from north to north-west. At
every nor'west scurry the Harbour was darkened with
sleet, and the spindrift flew in grey clouds. Once more
the fishing fleet was bottled up.
CHAPTER XXIII
THE terns left early, and gulls were scavenging inland.
Autumn waded through a roaring equinox which blistered
the fleet. The land was filled with the boom of rain--
lashed gales. Old Sandy prophesied dire weather. "I
saw three suns in the sky, an' the win's shifted oot o'
too many airts." The brown nets on the poles along
the Harbour were rotting, and could not be dried. The
last birds to leave were the herons, which had watched
on the shores in immobile gauntness as if carved out of
grey rock. They flapped their heavy way like winged
stone, leaving the Loch empty.
A savage nihilism of storms beat upon the town.
They leapt off the hills upon the Harbour with the rushing
sound of a great saw cutting wood. They were mingled
with hail, and when the gust roared past it left the hills
white to the sea, as if a mighty smearing hand had passed
across their face. The water was hard, and black like
iron; but at every snarl when the wind veered into the
north-west it suddenly whitened, as iron in a furnace.
Men said that they saw evil omens in the skies — the
moon swimming upon the clouds like a great bat with
wings outspread upon the earth. The gables rushed up
black in the rain, giving the town a naked appearance,
and every window in Harbour Street was white with
salt. The grip of the storm was upon the wet, huddled
seaport, whose stones stood out in the scourged street
like teeth in a skull. There was something sinister in
the aspect of the town when, with a steely hard look
upon it, it lay black and drying from the twilight rains.
This was the common time of respite. In the morning
the unwearied blowing worried the town again with
fresh venom! The beaches were loud and the streets
resurgent with the noise and wash of the waters. The
seas went up on the forelands as clouds of steam, and
burst as snow. The men on the Quay head tasted salt,
which parched and blistered as they watched the weather--
worn squadron, rusty with the rains and bleached with
spindrift. It froze during the night. In the morning a
thawing wind was raw in the streets and whistled along
the bases of the dripping hills. Sea-drift and rain beat
upon a naked, shivering world.
The snows came and the sheeted hills stood up from
the black edge of the sea as white marble on a black
plinth. The birds perished in the frozen ditches. In
the silence of the snow could be heard their last cheeping.
The colossal magnificence of the garmented hills benumbed
the minds of those who stared up from their
low thresholds. Their leprous immensity deadened the
souls of men. The horror of Nature was making them
atheistic. Those monstrous hills appeared to swell as
they gazed out, cowled across a grey sky of ice, above the
bleating of mortals. Their passionless, unhungry strength
sank down with crushing force on the race beneath, that
was running its course with so many vicissitudes and
pangs of disappointment, and on the salt-whitened skiffs
riding out the winter.
Day and night in the lulls the men had hauled their
nets and found them empty. The great autumnal moons
arose, whitened the land and passed; and the potatoes
and the bag of meal waned, and went swiftly down to
their winter setting. The dripping lines slipped from
nerveless hands in the heart of the night, when the breakers
boomed on the veiled shores. The great ghost snow--
showers stalked out of the glens; and when the long
seas confused the morning-light, the men despaired of
the glory of the Lord and any Galilean peace more.
From the doors of their houses that shook in the tempest
they heard the snapping of pines on the forelands, and
knew that the raging sea would drive the herring eye
into the unsounded deep. The land was sour with snow,
bleached with spindrift, raw with rain. "The sky's
worn spewin' snow and rain," said the Bent Preen to
his wife, who was wasted with weeping. The children
fretted day long. There were no marriages. Those
which had been loveless became hell; those which had
been of love meant a hell of anguish too. God seemed
to hide His face behind the curtain of the snows. The
men were in a fierce, morose temper. Some were inclined
to believe in the ravings of Queebec. A judgment had
befallen Brieston. They had suffered heat, plague, and
tempest. Food was scarce. The school was deserted.
The Jew stripped the Back Street and carried it in
his pack to Glasgow. All the candles in the Back
Street were burned, and it lay in darkness. Gillespie
would give no credit. His eyes became flinty. Penury
unmasked him. The bad state of trade gnawed like
poison at his heart, and he came out into the open,
militant. He taught his customers one sharp lesson,
watching his opportunity. It was a Saturday night
towards the close of the year, when the shop was full
of women. One had asked for tea, sugar, butter, and
cheese. As each parcel — made up in the leaves of medical
journals rifled from the store — was laid on the counter,
the woman hurriedly deposited it in a basket, and when
the half-pound of butter — Gillespie's own make — was
laid on the counter, he stood rubbing his hands, for the
night was bitter cold. The woman leaned forward with
discreet face, and whispered in a strained voice. These
women had courage; they were out fighting for their
children, privateering for their husbands.
"Mark it doon in the book, wull I?" Gillespie's voice
rang out loudly. In the tense silence which followed,
the sharp whistling in his nostrils was heard by every
woman present, as he leaned over the counter in turn
and whipped everything out of the basket. His face
was wolfish as the face of a looting Turk.
"I'm fair rooked gein tick!" and turning to the next
customer, babbled of the impudence of scum that drink
"a' their money and expec' me to feed them. Ye'd
think I was Goäd Almighty to look aifter the sparrows."
These venomous and blasphemous words made the women
shiver. Three of them stole out of the shop. His mood
then suddenly changed. He had purged the counter,
and now relieved the situation by diverting attention
to the canaries he had stolen from the plague ship.
Raising a cautioning hand he jocosely said, "Quate there
wi' your feet; the hen 's havin' a bath." The customers
awaited the pleasure of the lady-bird, till she had hopped
up with glancing eyes, preening herself from the water.
"Noo, what dae ye want, mistress?" And as he cut
the ham, with the tip of his tongue protruding — "Isn't
that cock a fair whustler? He's the boy to waken the
street in the mornin'. They should pey me a penny a
day for wakenin' them, the lubbers" — his cheery voice
rattled on — "I canna sell an alarm clock noo-a-days for
thae confounded birds" — his jovial face beamed on the
women — "I've a good mind to thraw their necks.
Them sae perjink to feed too" — The echo of his words
was scarce dead — "Ye'd think I was Goäd Almighty to
look aifter the sparrows" — He grinned at the silent
faces — "A bonnie penny they cost, an' a wastery o'
good time. Topsail or Sanny don't ken when to change
their water. Useless folk! they just scar' thae birds oot
o' their wuts. Ask Topsail to fetch chick-weed, and it's
nightshade she'll bring, the murderer" — His rollicking
laugh rang through the shop. When business was
finished for the night he would hold up a playful finger —
"You sharp-eyed devil! fine you ken a' that's goin' on.
Never mind, it's another penny in the purse you're
seein'." The cock mayhap would hop down and splash in
the water — "There you go, you knowin' deevil. May
ye never see Gillespie sterve. Some cat frae the Back
Street wad get a grup o' ye then," and he would poke
cheerful-wise at the bird with the point of a pen, till
he realised he was wasting oil, and hurriedly turned out
the lights. At the close-mouth he would stand gazing
down the Square at Harbour Street smothered in snow,
or screaming with wind, with the air of one reckoning
on yet owning the street. The women who came to his
shop resisted him as little as they would resist a pirate
beneath his guns. He wanted the men in his power
also, that he might possess the fleet, and tortured his
brain, devising plan after plan to this end. He deemed
that the elements were warring on his side. That very
night Fate was to put a master plan in his grasp.
CHAPTER XXIV
TIMES were so hard that Peter the jeweller closed his
shop, and all his clocks were stopped. Every Saturday
he used to wind the clock in the tower of the parish
church with a big handle, climbing up among the droppings
of windy birds to work at his inheritance; for his
father, dead of an apoplexy while scaling the second
flight of the narrow steep stair, had tamed Time there
also within the gilt circle of the clock-face. Peter his
son, having shut his shop, removed himself from the
surging sea of the winds around the spire, and the clock
by which Brieston set its time stopped. Men missed
the solemn boom, and noticing the dead hands, concluded
that religion, too, had perished in the blight that possessed
Brieston. The gilt face of the clock in the turgid light
was as the face of a corpse in candle-light. Men walked
beneath it melancholy, bitter, darkened, morose, savage,
without sanctuary, without hope. Old sorrows and old
feuds were alike buried. People feared one thing —
famine; watched one thing — the shop in the Square.
Lowrie hinted to Gillespie that his shop would be looted.
"I'm ready for them any hour o' the day or night,"
and glancing up at the church he saw that the clock had
stopped. He did not know the reason, for a certain
tide of business still flowed in at his door, though it
passed by the door of Peter the jeweller. Not even a
queen can stave off grief with a necklace.
Despite the lifeless clock the hour came when the
bottom of the meal barrel grinned up in irony in the
face of Red Duncan. The men had scraped the very
bottom of the Loch with sixty fathom string to the
trawls. Heart-breaking work it was dragging them
aboard empty from the ooze. No one from the Barracks
to the "Ghost" had bought so much as a pennyworth
of salt with which to cure the winter's herring, and they
were burning heather in the Back Street. Kate of the
Left Hand, Red Duncan's wife, went and bowed herself
before Gillespie, who stood rubicund before her, with
feet firmly planted on the floor. This woman was of
one of those unfortunate families in which one commonly
looks for signs of trouble. It would not surprise any one
at any time to find one of its members running distractedly
down the stair, wailing because of a death that had just
taken place. Even in their gayest moments an air of
fatality or a foreboding of ill hovers over their house.
Red Duncan's family was such a target for sorrow.
Of him it was a saying, "When the herring's south, Red
Duncan's north." Several years previously his house had
been burned, and in the conflagration his wife had lost her
right hand. Dr. Maclean had amputated the charred
stump. Her left hand, as she now stood before Gillespie,
was empty.
"I've never wance compleened since I lost my all the
night o' the fire. I'm stervin'."
"Thae rats! thae rats!" — it was alleged that rats
eating into a box of matches had started the fire — "Is't
no' wonderfu' hoo they beasties can herm us folk, ay?"
Gillespie sighed.
"Wull ye gie me wan loaf, Maister Strang? it's no'
for mysel'; my waens is greetin' wi' hunger."
"Breed's up the noo a haepenny. That'll be fower--
pence."
"I haena seen fowerpence this fortnight."
"I'll aye be glad to sell ye a loaf when ye hae the
money."
The woman's eyes were as those of one who is being
crucified.
"Wull ye no help me?" she pleaded. "I'll pey ye
when I can."
"I hear that story every day ee noo," he answered
drily; "folk think I'm the Bank o' Scotland."
A thing too deep for tears was in the woman's face.
"Ye're a hard man," she said. "I've three waens
at hame, an' I'm frichted to go back. I hope your waens,
Maister Gillespie, will never ken the sufferin' o' mine."
Gillespie put on his spectacles, opened a ledger and
shook his head.
"I'm fair weirin' my eyes oot wi' this rakin' through
a book o' bad debts. I canna add more to 't or I'll be
blin'." He turned his broad shoulder to her. Kate of
the Left Hand, with her eyes upon that shoulder, deliberated.
The house which had been burned belonged to
Gillespie, and was the house in which he had had his
first shop. He was found to be so rapacious that no
tenant would live in it longer than a single term. It was
alleged that he could still find his way into the garret,
which he still used as a store, by the road of the trap
which he had cut there in the days when he was engaged
in Sunday trading. To burn the old shop and get the
insurance money was a good way of ridding himself of
the task of finding new tenants. Such sinister rumours
were afloat at the time the house was burned.
Kate of the Left Hand drew her shawl about her head
and her famished eyes swept round the well-stocked shop.
"Gillespie," she said fiercely, "tak' good care the rats
dinna eat your matches here. Ye ken wha' fired the
garret above me when I lost my all? A gey an' big
grey rat."
He made a swift gesture of dismissal; "Ye needna open
fire. I've heard a' that before."
She flashed round on him.
"It'll dae ye nae hairm to hear it again;" she snatched
the shawl from her right shoulder, and exposed the
pitiful stump. "Look at it," she cried; "an' ye'll no'
gie me a loaf noo. You to say that ye're no Goäd
Almighty to feed the sparrows an' the waens. Wait,
man, wait, the Almighty's no' done wi' you yet. Ye're
good at mekin' a bleeze. Maybe the next bleeze 'ill no
please ye sae weel. I'll dree my own weird; but Goäd!
I winna dree yours for a' the gold in Californy."
"Is 't no' wonnerfu'?" Gillespie thought, gazing up at
the hams hanging from hooks on the ceiling, "the wy
they ding doon a chap as soon as he begins to get on a
wee in the world."
Kate of the Left Hand, darting out of the Square round
the Bank corner, ran into Topsail Janet.
"What's wrong wi' ye, Kate?"
"The waens are stervin', an' Gillespie put me oot o'
the shop."
Topsail pondered with a slack mouth of woe. "There's
noäthing I can prig in the hoose. He's lik' a jyler noo--
a-days wi' his keys, the misert. Come on," she flashed,
"I'll mand ye something." She led Kate of the Left
Hand to the ree, which was flanked by Gillespie's stable,
whose door Topsail opened. A brown mare with a
mangy hide stood in one of the stalls. Topsail lifted the
lid of a box leaning against the wall.
"Hold your bratty," which, with a scoop, she filled
with beans. "Thon misert," she jerked the scoop in the
direction of the Square, "coonts the feed; but the mear
can sterve for wan day. It'll be something for the waens
to chow. There, noo," she patted Kate maternally;
"afore the beans is done, ye'll mand a bite somewhere.
Try Lonend for a pickle auld potatoes."
Sulky night fell on the Back Street. The children,
pinched and blue-veined, were huddled together asleep;
husband and wife sat in stony silence. The last word
of Red Duncan had been to rave at the keeper of the
destinies of men. Misery like a beak was tearing his
heart.
"The morn's Sunday," he said; "the Lord's Day,"
and lapsed into the silence of hopeless abandonment.
The rusty gaping grate had the malevolence of an evil
eye, watching these two figures of stone.
A wail came from the floor inside the wooden frame
where the bed had been. The cold had wakened the
children. The woman lifted her head. She had the
appearance of a wild beast protecting its litter. The man
eyed her fiercely.
"Noathin' to pawn?" he croaked.
"Noathin," she gasped; "an' I'm telt the Jew 'ill
tek' nae mair stuff ony wy." His blood turned to water
as the fretting wail became louder.
"Mither! oh, mither! gie's a piece; a wee bit; I'm
stervin' wi' hunger."
"Wheest, son, your mither ill gie ye some more beans,
an' ye'll hae a braw breakfast the morn."
"Will it be toast?"
"Ay, son! toast an' jeely."
She groped to the corner at the window; but the beans
were finished. She groaned, and like a gaunt sibyl
stretched out her bony hand to the darkened window.
"Goäd in heaven, wull ye no' hae peety?"
The children began to whimper; the mother to sob.
"Katie, my wumman, are ye greetin' at lang an'
last?" The sound of his gnashing teeth like a dog's was
terrible in the room. In a tone which he had not heard
before — the tone of one who is on the brink of the Pit —
she answered:
"Greetin'! ay, my breist's burnin', burnin'."
Then Red Duncan put on his cap and went out to
steal.
Gillespie sat at the kitchen table over his ledger in a
brown study. The bones of the impoverished town were
his for the lifting, and he saw himself squeezing out
their marrow. Topsail was cleaning up the supper
dishes in the sink; his wife was seated in the corner at
the fire with a pile of socks on her lap, for Topsail had
insisted that she should be found of Gillespie on some
active task. Mrs. Strang was darning in a desultory
fashion, for she loathed the work. A dull noise was
heard in the shop. Gillespie lifted his head alertly.
"Did ye hear a noise ablow?" he asked.
"It'll be a rat in the shop," and Topsail went on with
her washing.
"Wheest, wull ye, wi' that clatter!" Topsail stopped.
There was nothing to be heard but the beating of the
rain on the window.
"Gie me my boots," he said sharply; "a man in his
stockin' soles has no chance." He put them on and
picked up the poker from the fender. He always carried
the keys of the shop in his pocket. "Where's the
candle?" Topsail glanced towards the dresser. He
followed her glance and saw the candle.
"There's nae rats in my shop," he growled as he lifted
the sneck.
He crept along the passage, unlocked the back door
of the shop, and left it open as a way of retreat, for he
had no stomach for an encounter in the dark. He stood
in the back office breathing quickly and listening. A
gust of wind snarling at the door made his heart jump,
and a wave of heat spread over his head. Would he
steal out and fetch the policeman? By that time the
thief would be gone. He imagined some one ready to
strike or spring at him. The drumming of the rain went
on without in the thick night, and the wind whined through
the passage. He took a stealthy step towards his desk
against the wall beside the fireplace, laid down the poker
on the desk, and struck a match. As it fluttered in the
draught and went out he heard a brushing as of clothes
touching something in the front shop, and his hand shook.
He struck another match hurriedly, and lit the candle,
sheltering the flame with his hand, as it died down, and
struggled back to life. Fear of imminent peril crouching
somewhere overcame him. At that moment he noticed
the window. The glass had been broken at the catch,
and the window was wide open. He shifted the candle
to his left hand and picked up the poker.
"Come oot o' that, ye blaiggart!" he roared, his heart
choking in his throat. A man stepped through the
counter opening and stood in the doorway between the
back office and the shop. Gillespie's amazement overcame
him for a moment when he saw Red Duncan,
meagre, thin with hunger, nerveless with detection. At
the sight of the man's confusion and hang-dog air,
Gillespie's aplomb rushed back upon him, and for a
moment he felt kindly disposed to the unlucky thief, for
the relief his pusillanimous presence afforded. He walked
up to Red Duncan, holding the candle between them.
"It's yersel', Donnacaidh."
The other made no answer.
"A wild night to be oot for a bit tobacco."
Red Duncan leaned against the counter and sobbed
out: "I'm done for!"
"Ay! it's the jyle for ye, Donnacaidh."
"Mo thruaigh! mo thruaigh! I never stealt in my
life before."
"Sixty days if it's a meenut. Ye'll be namely a' over
Brieston."
"For Goäd's sake, gie's a chance. Man! man! if ye
heard my waen's greetin' the night. I'll do anything for
ye. Gie's wan chance."
"Weel," Gillespie had laid down the poker and was
smoothing his cheek with his hand; "I'm no that bad--
he'rted I wad send any man to jyle."
"No! no!" Red Duncan quavered; "we a' ken that."
Gillespie, who had been keenly scrutinising him,
suddenly extended to him the candle. "Hold the
candle. I'm goin' to trait ye better nor ye deserve,
comin' alarmin' dacent folk in the deid o' night."
"If ye'd been in oor hoose the night ye'd ha' done
the same," Red Duncan bleated.
Gillespie quietly surveyed the shop.
"An what were ye thrang at when I spoiled the ploy?
Red Duncan stepped backwards and pointed to the
recess beneath the counter, in which three loaves, part
of a ham, and a tin of salmon were lying.
"Ay! ay! nane sae bad, an' breid up an Irish sae
dear." He lifted the goods on to the counter, where they
lay on the long polished surface, isolated, accusatory.
Gillespie disappeared behind a pile of stuff in the midst
of the floor, and returned with a basket.
"Noo, Donnacaidh" — he spoke briskly, and laid a
hand on Red Duncan's shoulder as he passed — "Ill tek'
peety on ye for the sake o' the wife an' waens. Ye'll
no' can say I'm bad."
The man was exhausted and tears sprang in his eyes;
the clear drops falling on the wiry red beard.
"I canna thank ye, Gillespie."
Gillespie walked to the butter kit.
"Hold the cannle here," he commanded. By force of
habit Red Duncan went to the customer's side of the
counter and leaned over, candle in hand.
"Come awa' roond, man; dinna be sae blate."
Gillespie scrupulously weighed 12 lb. of butter; cut
a hunk of cheese and weighed it; sugar 12 lb.; tea 12 lb.;
packed them up, and put them in the basket; weighed
the ham, and put it with six loaves along with the
other stuff. Neither man spoke a word till Gillespie took
the candle from Red Duncan.
"Cairry ben the basket," he ordered. They went into
the back office. Gillespie dropped some candle grease
on the writing board of the desk, and struck the end of
the candle in the grease.
"Noo," he said, "you'll tek' home thae vittels."
The one side of Red Duncan's face was deeply shadowed,
the other was twitching in the candle-light. "I'll pey
ye, Gillespie, I'll pey ye wi' the first fushin'."
"That's the talk, Donnacaidh. Ye're no' like a wheen
o' thae blaiggarts that'll tek' an' tek' an' when they win
a penny they're off to Brodie's."
"No! my hands to Goäd."
Gillespie interrupted him brusquely.
"Ye'll see I'm no' cheatin' ye." He drew a sheet of
paper towards him and took up a pen.
s. d. £ s. d
12 lb. sugar @ 2½ . 2 6
12 lb. cheese @ 10 . 10 0
12 lb. butter @ 1 4 . 16 0
12 lb. tea @ 1 8 . 1 0 0
½ doz. loaves @ 3½ 1 9
7 lb. ham @ 1 2 8 2
He looked up smiling at Red Duncan. "Ye'll no' hae
me at the expense o' the brocken winda'?"
Red Duncan nodded.
s. d.
1 pane glass . . 1 6
1 candle . . . . . 1
"Let me see noo" — he was chewing the point of the
pen, and counting on his fingers — "that mek's three
pounds nate. Is it no' astonishin' the wy it cam oot —
nate the three poun'?" Red Duncan stared fascinated,
Gillespie wheeled round in his chair — "You an' me 'ill
mek' a bargain, Donnacaidh," he said. Gillespie was laughing
silently at his victim — "I ken what it is to hae a stervin'
wife an' waens." Red Duncan, still under the spell of
fascination, blinked; "I'm goin' to show ye a wy to keep
the wolf frae the door a' winter."
"I wish to Goäd I knew!" Red Duncan blurted.
"Weel, ye needna wait for the fushin' to pey me"
— Gillespie was purring now; his eyes wheedling as well as
his voice — "ye'll can pey me noo. That's the wy ony
dacent man wad do."
"But I hevna a roost."
"Hoots, man!" — Gillespie jabbed him playfully with
the point of his pen — "ye've a fourth share in the
Bella — boat an' nets."
"Ay."
The Bella was a new caravel, built for trawling, and
cost a hundred and ten pounds; the trawl-net cost thirty
pounds. Anchor and chains, sails, and other gear forty
pounds — a hundred and eighty pounds in all.
"Say we'll tek' thirty pounds off, seein' she's been oot
a season. That mek's a hundred and fifty pounds. A
fourth share is thirty-seven pounds ten shullin's."
"She's as good as new," said Red Duncan, suddenly
awake. "The net hasna gone ower her side since she
left the carpenter's shed."
"Weel! weel! say twenty pounds off. That leaves
a hundred and sixty pounds — forty pounds a fourth
share. Dinna argle-bargle a' night an' the waens greetin'
wi' hunger. Noo you sign a bill to me for your share,
an' I'll feed you an' yours a' the winter. Ye've gotten
three pounds worth here in the basket."
"Can ye no' wait?" pleaded the dumbfounded man, who
saw himself being enmeshed. "I'll can easy pey ye the
three poun' wi' the first good fishin'."
"Man! I canna hey' my money lyin' oot that long
thae bad times. I've to pey the traivellers. Ye don't
ken what it is to hev' them girnin' in your face for money."
Red Duncan, unable to rebut this, was silent.
"Think o' your wife an' waens cryin' for breid a' the
winter" — he grinned in Red Duncan's face. "It's no' as
if Katie could go oot an' work. Wha'll gie work to a
wan-airmed wumman?"
Red Duncan shifted from one foot to the other, and a
fine sweat broke out on his forehead. "The other men
ill ken," he said wretchedly.
Gillespie laughed scornfully.
"The other men 'ill be gey gled to do the same afore
the spring. I canna tek' up the hale fleet. I'm gein
ye your chance noo, Donnacaidh." His argument was
persuasive.
"I canna! I canna!"
Gillespie's face hardened, and he rose ponderously to
his feet.
"Ye gomeril," he said; "I'll no' tek' ye to the jyle
the nicht for shop-breakin'; but I'll gie ye in chairge the
morn. Yell fin oot the Shurrif in Ardmarkie 'ill no dale
wi' ye lik' Gillespa' Strang."
Red Duncan was cowed. "If I hae the money I'll
can buy my share back?" he asked.
"Ou! there's naethin' to hinder ye, Donnacaidh."
The answer was airy; and he clapped Red Duncan on the
shoulder. "Sign the bill noo an' be off wi' the basket
afore it gets any later."
Red Duncan took up the pen in a shaky hand.
"Ay! there across the stamp; that's my he'rty; the
date noo. It's no just the right kin' o' bill this; but
ye'll step doon come Monday morn. I'll get the Spider
to mek' oot a right wan." He scrupulously dried the
wet ink with blotting-paper.
"Noo ye've paid your lawin' I'll gie ye a fill for a
smoke on the road home." Gillespie passed into the shop
and returned with about an inch of thin black tobacco.
"Gie my compliments to your wife an' say she's no' to
be blate aboot comin' for proveesions." Candle in hand
Gillespie showed out Red Duncan with the basket on
his shoulder.
"Good-night, Donnacaidh," Gillespie cried, shielding
the candle from the wind and rain; "see an' send the
boy doon wi' the basket on Monday."
Red Duncan passed in silence into the night, bearing
his cross.
Gillespie returned to his desk chuckling. He owned
the fourth share of a boat and net. The custom was to
divide the price of a week's take of herring into five
shares — one share for each of the four men of the crew,
and one share for the boat and the net, after an allowance
had been made for the week's stores. Gillespie
would now draw his share for this boat and net, and
Red Duncan would do the work for him, suffering the
exposure and the peril. Gillespie reckoned that one
month's good fishing would refund him in the amount he
would expend on food to Red Duncan's family. Thereafter
his share in the boat would constitute a source of
revenue season after season without burden. He looked
forward to getting many of the boats in his possession
in this way before the spring. He would choose the
neediest crews, and point out how Red Duncan was
comfortably passing the winter. These fishermen would
become his servants. He had no intention of re-selling
his share, either to Red Duncan or to any other gomeril.
He took two black-striped balls from a long glass bottle
and put one in his mouth. He always treated himself
in this fashion after a good stroke of business. Then he
barricaded the broken window, locked the door, and went
upstairs. His wife lay on her back, mouth open, snoring.
She awoke on his entrance.
"Who's that?" she asked, half sitting up in bed.
"It's me!" He crossed to the bedside, and put a
black-striped ball between her lips. "Hae a sweety,"
he said. She looked at him with sleepy eyes. "I was
kin' o' a wee lucky the night," he purred.
"What time is it?" she asked.
He examined a heavy silver watch.
"A quarter to one."
"Where have you been all this time?" She stretched
out her neck towards him and yawned.
"Hoots! pookin' a gull."
"Ye took your time to the job," she said, without
understanding.
He flung off his coat and answered gaily:
"Never be in a hurry to lowse a stot frae a good
pleugh."
CHAPTER XXV
THE penury of Brieston became more and more galling
to Gillespie, being a bit in the mouth of his progress.
The feelings of humanity had seldom much claim upon
him. If he took profit from his transactions, he esteemed
as nothing the injury he was inflicting on others. His
conduct now became venomous, his mind rancorous.
Perhaps the fact that his folk were of another soil and
blood blinded him to the hatred he was exciting.
Gradually a considerable part of the fishing fleet had
been pawned to him, and he conceived the sinister plan
of getting possession of the whole fleet, and making the
fishermen his servants. The people had passed now from
suspicion to hostility, avowed and open. In times of
sedition the smallest particulars are seized upon and
given an exaggerated meaning. Ugly rumours of Gillespie's
maltreatment of his wife were rife. He was
of a Lowland breed. It was not only hardship but
shame and dishonour that such an incomer should hold
the reins of the town. Big Finla', who was the present
occupant of Gillespie's house in the Back Street, complained
of a smoking vent, and asked Gillespie to have
it put right. Finlay's son was consumptive, and Maclean
said that the smoke would be the death of the boy.
Gillespie refused. The father, exasperated, swore he would
have it done at his own expense, and Gillespie then ordered
the plumber to "rig up a granny o' the very best on the
lum, one that'll do a lifetime, an' chairge it on Finla'." The
thing came out because Finlay when asked to pay refused.
Daily there were tales of Gillespie's greed, which went
to swell the volume of gathering wrath. His bonds were
not only drawn tightly across the town; he travelled
among the farmers and encamped among the wool.
Once a man was in his grip Gillespie was quietly savage,
like frost. He had snared Dalrymple, a small farmer
behind Lonend, loading his carts with stuff — meal, flour,
potato seed, and fodder through the spring and blazing
weather; and then jumped on his man.
"Gie's time, Gillespa'! I can dae naethin' wi' the
grun'. It's soor wi' rain."
"Man, Dalrymple, dae ye want me to supply ye wi'
weather too? What's the use o' a' your prayer-meetin's
on Wednesday nights?" The farmer, a pious man, was
shocked, but was forced to conceal his mortification.
"My advice to ye" — Gillespie was smiling coldly — "is
to redd up your ain hoose an' dung your bit parks, an'
pey your debt afore ye put on a collar for the prayer--
meetin', an' put siller in the kirk plate."
"Mr. Strang," replied the incensed man; "it's no'
against me you're speakin': its against God."
Gillespie waved an impatient hand. "Nae sermons!
nae sermons! I'm needin' my money."
"I'll pey ye come the back-end. I don't ask this for
mysel'. Ye wadna roup out my wife an' waens."
"Ay, ay! the same cry. Every wan o' ye run behind a
petticoat."
Dalrymple was nettled. "It's no' for me to give way
to anger, Mr. Strang, but I wad haud my tongue about
petticoats. It'll p'raps be a gey ill day for ye yet that
ye ever took up wi' Lonen's daughter, if a' accoonts be
true."
Gillespie's face became sour.
"It's only a blaiggart that wad throw a man's ain
dung at him," he cried: but in a moment the old coaxing
returned to his voice. "I'll show ye I'm no' hard on
any honest man wi' a faimly. I'll gie ye till the back-end
to pey me."
Gillespie saw Dalrymple out of the shop, ruminating
on the seven per cent. he had squeezed out of the farmer
for the months of grace. Dalrymple was also ruminating.
"Him to talk o' the prayer-meetin'. The fire an'
sulphur o' Sodom and Gomorrah will devour him yet" —
Dalrymple smiled grimly — "an' then I'll hae nae debt
to pey him. The fire an' brimstone 'ill pey the lawin."
In his unimaginative, dogged way he clung tenaciously
to the idea, and crossed over to Lonend in the afternoon
to consult Logan about the seven per cent. He had a
large simple faith in sturdy Lonend, whom he found
bending over a tarnished looking-glass, and with moistened
fingers carefully arranging wisps of hair over the bald
spot on the crown of his head. Lonend, about to pay a
visit to Mrs. Galbraith, was informed by Dalrymple of
his visit to Gillespie.
"He's got ye nailed, Dalrymple," said Lonend. "I
ken the breed an' seed o' him fine. I've eaten salt wi'
him. Ye don't ken a man till ye've eaten a bushel o'
salt thegither." The squat sturdy figure swung round on
Dalrymple. "Ye're no' the only wan. Hide an' hair
he's stripped Brieston. The toon's gettin' too small for
him. He should hae been livin' wi' the tobacco lords o'
the Trongate. There's some folk greet wi' evil an' spite,
but ye can mek' noathin' o' him — thon deid calm. He's
got the bulk o' the fleet in his grup."
"The vagabond," answered Dalrymple uneasily; "it's
the fire an' brimstone o' Sodom an' Gomorrah that'll
devour him yet. God will not be mocked."
Something in those familiar last words made Lonend
shudder. Suddenly an idea seized him. The pupils of
his eyes contracted and they glowed upon Dalrymple.
"By Goäd!" he said; "you've struck it, man. They're
stupid doon by in Brieston about their boats. I hear
they want to seize them. Fire! fire an' brimstone" —
Lonend clenched his jaw — "he was fond enough o' fire
when Red Duncan's wife nearly lost her life. Gie him
his gutsfu' o't noo."
"Wheest! wheest! Lonen'," pleaded Dalrymple,
terrified at the effect which his words produced. "Vengeance
belongeth to the Lord; He will repay."
"You've struck it, man!" cried Lonend, carried away.
"The bulk o' the fleet's Gillespie's. By the Lord!
Dalrymple, but I'm gled ye cam' here the day. I'll back
your seeven per cent. for this."
"Will ye?" asked Dalrymple, with snapping eyes.
"Ay! by Goäd! that will I, an' sign it by the lowe o'
Gillespie's fleet."
That evening Lonend divulged certain things to Mrs.
Galbraith, and sitting with his stumpy legs held wide,
and his hands hanging loosely between them, asked her
if she would marry him.
There was a tense silence in the room for a moment
as Lonend raised his eyes furtively and riveted them on
a mole on Mrs. Galbraith's cheek. Her full bosom rose
and fell in short, quick pants. At last she turned her
dark brilliant eyes on Lonend, making no attempt to
conceal the expression of nausea on her face.
"Have you thought of Morag?" she asked, in a low
stiff voice. "What will become of her if Mr. Strang
loses the fleet by fire?"
"She's as ill-off as ever she'll be," he answered, dropping
his eyes before her withering look.
When he raised them again, because of her continued
silence, she held out her hand.
"Good-night," she said deliberately. "I shall marry
you if you burn the boats which belong to Mr. Strang."
CHAPTER XXVI
LONEND assiduously fomented ill-feeling against
Gillespie. The Pump was up in arms.
"Souple, souple Gillespie," said Nan at Jock, whose
son was once more returned from the ends of the earth.
"God be thankit. I'm no' in his raiverence. The
slinkin' greedy face he has."
Mary Bunch craned her little dark head forward.
"We'll soon a' be independent o' him. Ye ken I've a
nesty bitter tongue, an' it'll no' do for me to open fire.
But just wait you. Lonen' is the boy for him. There's
goin' to be rippets. Petery McKinnon's sweirin' him
terrible. He ca'ed his boy at the christinin' aifter
Gillespie, thinkin' it wad soften him, for they're deep in
his debt. An' what div ye think he said to Petery's
wife?"
No answer was hazarded.
"Sez he, 'See that he mak's good use o' the name.'"
"Ach! ach! is he no' the mean scart?" said Black Jean;
"it'll soon be a deserted toon wi' his ongoin's, an' no' a
lum reekin'."
Lonend, more than any other, helped to bring about
this moral earthquake. But the people, apart from
Lonend's influence, were already deep in hatred. It
leaked out that some of the men were mortgaging their
shares in the boats to Gillespie. His avarice made them
avaricious. They paid him as if coin were heart-blood.
He bought by stealth and sold with consummate cunning;
took in the day and gave in the dark. He was a busy
moth in the decayed estates of the impoverished. Many
were now actually afraid of his whistling nostril. The
sibilant sound was likened by the Butler to the devil
putting a whistle to his lips at the mouth of the Pit.
The morning found him on the outposts of occasion as
February came in; and at night he was a framer of
traps, snares, and gins. In his eyes, the will of God was
exercised in heaven only; the earth being purely a field
of human activity — a theory as old as the human race.
In practice Gillespie had a new mastery of this theory,
as he bruised bees for their honey, and battered bald
heads with a harp, giving no one a chance to smell powder.
The rat McAskill was his right-hand man. Gillespie
however, was unaware that times occur in the history
of nations and of communities when law is whirled away
like a withered leaf in the tempest of a people's revolt.
Such a time was coming to Brieston. What right had
an interloper to seize the chief power in Brieston and
enslave its folk? Red Duncan's family had now eaten
the share of his boat; and Red Duncan was not chary
of telling how he had been ensnared. Brieston was
weary of its lot — burned with the heat, blistered with
gales, and trapped by a pirate. The people were worn
with vicissitude and savage at their impotence in being
driven to sell their birthright for a mess at Gillespie's
hands. They had imagined him a public benefactor,
but recognised now that all along Lonend was right.
In bitterness they formulated the axiom that many
kings have ascended thrones only to tax the people.
Lonend's denunciation had all the more force that his
own daughter was married to Gillespie.
Distress had now in many families come to a head.
Some of their members had gone to Glasgow, Clydebank,
Port Glasgow, and Greenock, seeking work in the shipbuilding
yards; but many of the hammers on Clydeside
were silent and the yards half empty. Glasgow Harbour
was full of idle ships. Tired of being sent from one
gate to another of the yards, the men returned home
dispirited and without money. They were goaded by
ill-luck, blighting weather, the wretched state of their
families, and the prospect of entering on the spring
fishing season no longer their own masters. Some swore
they would not lift an anchor, though it was pointed out
that if they remained ashore they would starve. Others
suggested seizing the boats and using them as if they
were their own. Gillespie would baulk them in this,
however, because he would withhold provisions and
gear. Brieston was heaving in the throes of anarchy,
and a low growl of despair like the snarl of a caged
beast was heard. The people had reached that pitch
when all that is needed is a leader to give them
initiative.
It was said that a cat had been boiled and eaten in
MacCalman's Lane. This turned the blood of Brieston
to gall. Queebec at the time was preaching at the shoe--
maker's shop on the breast wall to a deep sullen crowd.
He raved of portents which he saw in the sky, and
threatened the shop in the Square with outstretched hand
which gripped a Bible.
"Let him come out and answer for his sins. It is
the day of the Lord, a terrible day of vengeance. I see
fire and blood." He spoke of cometary lights and
blazing apparitions in the heavens, wizardry in the air,
over a land that was a field of blood. "Let Judas be
hanged in it!" he screamed; "Heaven will have no mercy
till the blood of Andy is avenged." He heard a rushing
mighty noise by night proclaiming woe. An angel armed
with a sword was on the Loch. Funerals passed in the
clouds, with long-maned black horses champing in the
air. Apparitions appeared in the graveyard.
Horror stagnated in the faces of the men as they
listened.
"Your churches will become empty: you will learn
to rob each other. Gillespie has your very lives in
pledge. He has taken a bond on the services of your
wives and daughters for a dole of food. He has your
very heart-blood. Woe, woe to you! Woe, woe to
the despoiler and the vampire! Will you stand by any
longer?" The man's eye flashed from end to end of the
line of men. "To the Lodge! to the Lodge!" he screamed.
A guttural growl broke out — "To the Lodge!"
The next moment the black tide of men, headed by
Queebec, was pouring down Harbour Street in the direction
of the Good Templars' Hall.
CHAPTER XXVII
EVERY public meeting was held within these walls.
This meeting, ostensibly an inspiration, had in reality
been convened by Lonend, who had heard of Red Duncan's
escapade. Together they had concerted a plan for
working up the people through Queebec's philippics.
Lonend, with a packed jury in the Lodge, had as his
chief concern the finding of a chairman for the meeting.
There was one nicknamed Barnacles, a notability of the
town, an undersized, podgy, middle-aged man of a good
family, who had been rusticated in Brieston by his folk
in the Borders, Peebles way. Stuart, the parish minister,
received one pound per week, paid quarterly, for his board;
and it was stipulated that on no account was his boarder
to receive spirituous liquor of any kind. He was nicknamed
Barnacles from the appearance of his face, which
was covered with large, fiery pimples. He was a fluent
speaker, and was in constant demand to act as chairman
at concerts and public gatherings, where he always
appeared in a Harris tweed suit. Except the Laird's
gamekeepers he was the only man in Brieston who wore
knickerbockers. He was fond of children — of whom he
had often a following — was an accomplished German
scholar, and sang German songs at the Banker's evening
parties to his own accompaniment on the piano. At
such entertainments it was a sight to see Stuart's sister
languish on a couch, making eyes at Maclean as she said,
"Oh! Mr. Elliot, do play us that charming thing of
Beethoven's you played in the manse last night." In
the manse Miss Stuart treated him ill-favouredly. "You
know one's house is not one's own with him about," she
would say condescendingly to Mrs. Tosh. Stuart treated
him more decently, especially as on occasion Barnacles
presented the minister with an excellent sermon, full of
German philosophy and theology. He knew the Rhine
as well as Brieston, and passed his life tramping about
the country in which he had become a proficient Gaelic
scholar. He knew every person's business, and boasted
that after forty minutes reading of the Glasgow Herald
he could answer any question on its contents. He spoke
of politicians as if they were his intimates, and he was
chairman of the local Liberal Club. He ought not to be
Liberal, he said; but was disgusted with the landowners
of the Borders — "a peevish, stupid class who battened
on the land." He was readily bribed with a bottle. So
we find Red Duncan proposing him "for the chair,"
and the little fat Barnacles taking the platform in
knickers. Commonly he was loquacious; to-night terse,
for the bottle and the five-pound note which Lonend
had promised him were awaiting him in the peace that
lay beyond these voices. In virile language he pointed
out the flagrant piracy of Mr. Strang. It was preposterous
to think that the whole fleet was to ride at his
command, and that he had hired the very services of
their wives and children for the gutting season. Suppose
that season were a good one, the cream of it would go
to Gillespie, who would be enriched in idleness, while
they bore the brunt. The Hall was packed to the door.
Even women had fought for entry as if a new miracle of
loaves and fishes was about to be performed.
"He supposes himself to be the saviour of the town
in these hard times. Let him prove it now. Ask him
to give up possession of the boats he holds on the promise
that his money shall be repaid during the coming season.
Put him to the test."
Barnacles ceased talking and looked around the sea
of faces. "I call for the names of three men who will
go to him now with this proposition."
Lonend's packed jury responded.
Peepin was one. He lived in a smack like an old
Viking, and raked the Quay head among the fishermen
asking for "old chows." This chewed tobacco he dried
and smoked. He coughed incessantly, with a hacking
sound, and was often to be seen very lonely, drawing
his scavenging of the day in a barrow about the streets
in the twilight — a melancholy spectacle which was a
résumé of the toil of humanity, labouring in the light
beneath the sky and seeking a roof at eventide. The
Solan was another, a notable free-thinker, who had
sucked his opinions in his youth from Glasgow Green.
He denied any sort of power in the heavens or upon the
earth; and he had cause, said Maclean, for no power
was of any avail to cure his chronic dyspepsia. The
veterinary surgeon, a tall supple man, always accompanied
with a following of dogs, had tested the Solan by offering
him a leaf of an old Bible and a box of matches, with
which to light his pipe. As the Solan contemptuously
was about to make a spill of the leaf, his eye caught these
words, underlined with ink — "I was betrayed in the
house of my friends." His pinched, sickly face took on
a greenish hue; his prominent red nose appeared to
burn.
"Light it with your nose, Solan!" some one cried.
From that hour the god had feet of clay. The Solan
was anxious to retrieve himself by doing something
conspicuous for his fellow-men, and offered himself as a
delegate with Peepin. Red Duncan made up the third
of the trio.
They found Gillespie, who had heard there was an
insurrection of the people, armed with a gun.
Barnacles sat in the chair, awaiting their return, and
the boys in the gallery wiled away the time shouting
songs:
"Oh, Donal'! Oh, Donal'!
Drink your gless, lad, and gang awa' hame,
For if ye'll tarry linger ye'll get a bad name;
So drink your gless, lad, an' fill yoursel' fou.
The lang wad's sae dreary, but I'll see ye through."
The trio returned.
"I'll hae naethin' to do wi' the scum o' Brieston" —
the Solan reported Gillespie to Barnacles, who sat smugly,
his thick legs apart and arms, which seemed to grow out
of his hip, akimbo. "Ye're just a' wheen blaiggarts that's
rennin' your race for the jyle."
Barnacles rose to his feet, and waved a fat white hand.
"Gentlemen," he declaimed, "you have heard Mr.
Strang bleat. His answer is of scoundrels and of the
greed of dishonest men. I have no doubt he brought
into play his famous smile of usury."
Barnacles got no further.
"The wolf! he would cast lots for the seamless garment,"
some one shouted at the back of the Hall. Few
recognised that it was Campion's voice. Immediately
there was a scene of confusion. Voices rang out over
the Hall.
"He's only fit to be minched doon an' made bait for
a lobster pot."
"He stealt oor boats frae us. He told us we needna
compleen," a dark-a-vised foreign-looking man was
shouting; "he said he'd gie us another boat, an' you
bate he gied us wan. Dae ye ken what was in her?"
he roared; "noathin' but rats; a fair riddle to droon
men. A life is noathin' to thon man."
"By Goäd, well get to windward o' him noo; we'll
put a clove hitch on him; another voice was distinguished
in the babel.
At that moment Red Duncan stepped on to the platform
beside Barnacles, and the tumult suddenly ceased.
"Boys," he shouted, "Gillespie is sitting up yonder wi'
a gun in his hand. He'll no yield an inch. 'They're
my boats,' he said. "Are ye for lettin' them be, boys?
He burned me oot o' hoose an' hame for the insurance
money; he burned the airm off my wife. He threatened
me wi' the jyle when she was stervin', an' then stole
my share o' the Bella. He's good at burnin'."
Queebec arose in the midst of the Hall. "Vengeance!
Vengeance! the sword o' the Lord an' Gideon. Burn the
boats; it's the only way."
"Burn the boats! burn the fleet!" The hoarse cry,
taken up by the whole Hall, pulsed far into the night,
and the tumult was heard by Gillespie.
"Gentlemen" — Barnacles held up his hand — "is that
your decision?
"Ay! ay!" came the answering roar.
"Let the outer door be locked," rang out the voice
of Barnacles. The sound of a grating key was heard.
"Now, men, this is a serious thing. If any man
objects to this course let him stand up."
Old Sandy shuffled with his feet, half stood up, and
sank down again on his seat.
"I must ask you now to swear an oath by Almighty
God that no man here will divulge what has transpired,
or give away the names of those who volunteer for the
work. Remember that the crime of incendiarism is
heavily punished by the law."
"To hell wi' the law; it'll no' feed us!" a voice shouted.
"Very well then, every one present hold up his right
hand and swear." A sea, of fierce malignant faces was
turned up to Barnacles as he solemnly held up his right
hand and said, "I swear by Almighty God."
The next moment a multitude of hands was in the air,
and "I swear by Almighty Goäd" rang deep and low
through the Hall. The terrible curse of a whole community
was called down on the head of Gillespie Strang,
who at that moment was nursing a gun.
Barnacles called for volunteers. With fierce oaths
every man offered. Six were chosen. Queebec clamoured
to be one, but was rejected. Red Duncan was appointed
leader.
"Let every man go home, and let no one move a
step to-morrow night to save the fleet. 'Sow the wind
and reap the whirlwind,'" said Barnacles solemnly, and
descended from the platform. The scrunch of a key
was heard unlocking the outer door. Some of the men
passed out with frightened faces; some were elated; most
had a hard, brooding look. Not a word was spoken
till they had crowded through the ante-room and broke
up in Harbour Street into knots and groups. In twenty
minutes the street was empty, and the mourning of the
sea arose in the dark along the Harbour wall.
CHAPTER XXVIII
THE next evening a strong gale of wind and rain blew
the Butler down Harbour Street into Brodie's, where he
found the Fishery Officer, a clean-limbed, alert man of
some thirty years, with a sallow face and humorous
twinkling eyes, who announced that he had had a telegram
from Ardmarkie with the intelligence that the fleet there
had opened the spring fishing season with a heavy fishing.
It was time the Brieston men were getting ready. The
Butler flared up.
"What are they to get ready for, with Gillespie sittin'
like a hoodie craw on the riggin' of every boat? May the
Lord look sideways on him."
Gillespie found a partisan in the Fishery Officer, who
said that Gillespie would make the fortune of the fleet
with his steamer ready to buy their fish. No one could
provision the fleet like him, or hold such a quantity of
empty stock ready for emergencies. Why were the lazy
Brieston men not preparing their boats? — By the irony
of circumstance the Brieston men were at that very
moment, under cloud of night, lifting the anchors of the
skiffs and lashing them together, and soaking their forecastles
with paraffin supplied by Lonend — "Before they
get out the Ardmarkie men will have fished hundreds of
pounds' worth. There's a big eye moving up the Channel."
It took all Brodie's blustering tact to prevent a quarrel,
and it was with a valedictory oath of camaraderie that
he shut his front door upon them at ten o'clock. The
Fishery Officer waspishly fell into step with the Butler
and said: "We've drunk together."
"That's true," hiccoughed the Butler; "by the heave
of your legs."
"We've told yarns together."
"You're never done, man — big ones."
"We've sang songs together."
"I've never heard ye, ye hoodie."
"Give me time; give me time, Butler; I'm gettin' it
out now for what ye said to me in Brodie's. Sang songs,
ay; but we haven't had a fight yet."
"Man," said the Butler blithely, "many's a spar I've
had wi' the Laird wi' the gloves. Give me the wall for
my back, an' tap claret."
Two shops in Harbour Street just at the point where
they stood formed an acute angle. One was large, next
indeed in importance to Gillespie's; the other a small
greengrocer's, which had the appearance of leaning
under and being crushed by the larger. Into this angle
the Butler walked, and leaning against both walls, was
dimly aware that the Fishery Officer was making certain
strange gyratory movements in his vicinity.
"Hach," ejaculated the Butler peevishly, shot out
his powerful hand, and caught his opponent on the
shoulder. In this fashion they fell to, fell, and fell
asleep. Some two hours later Campbell of Skye fell over
a leg in the dark. Always eager for stripes, he flashed
his bull's eye on the corner, and was in the article of
arresting a house-breaker, when he glimpsed the Butler
seated in the angle of the wall, blinking, with folded
arms like an Indian god. The Fishery Officer had
eloped with his respectability some time before, when
the Butler, wandering through an indecent ballad, had
awakened him. The Butler still sang.
"Wha-at iss this noise you are mekin'?"
"Noise!" said the Butler; "I'm singing."
"Maybe you iss; but move on at wance, or you'll be
singin' in the chyle."
This was exactly the Butler's inability. An idea took
the genial aristocrat that he would use the policeman
as a valet.
"You don't know me, you surely don't know me,
constable, or you wouldn't speak in that scurrilous
fashion." He reclined on his right elbow. "You haven't
been long enough in Brieston to hear of my trouble."
"Your trubble iss the dram; I'm tellin' you that, by
Chove!"
"You afflict me, sir; you afflict me. What rascals do
you move among to hear such low talk?"
"Rascals! move on at wance, or I'll hev' to took ye
to the chyle."
"I tell you I won't move on. I defy you, sir, to lay
your hand on me till I have explained to you my trouble.
Extinguish your light. It is in my eyes." There was a
click, followed by sudden darkness.
"Allow me, sir, to ask you to be seated by me."
"My backside on the wet; no fears."
"As you will; as you will. Observe then, constable,
this is not the dram; it is a floating kidney. Have you
ever heard of a floating kidney?"
"No, nor a flottin' puddin'. Chust you reise an' move
on smert."
"I tell you I'm indisposed. Lay your hand on me at
your peril." The Butler groaned and rubbed the small
of his back. "Oh, constable! constable! it's here.
If I could'just get this kidney of mine anchored. It's
an awful thing for a man to have a kidney sailing up
and down inside him, like a yacht at a regatta." He
groaned deeply: "Sometimes I feel it in the small of my
back; the next minute — Oh! Oh!! Oh!!! — it's tacking
away up my spine." His head fell on his arm. Campbell
of Skye bent down an anxious face.
"Dhia!" he said, "iss this no' the state you're in;
will I go for the doctor?"
"Maclean knows; Maclean knows," the inert mass
moaned. "There's nothing for it when it seizes me but
to lie down if I can't get assistance. Big McCallum used
to give me an arm home; and you talk of the jail. Do
you want to drive me into an early grave, sir?"
Campbell's fat, red face was stupid with mystification
and his eyes alarmed. "Since aal my days I neffer h'ard
of a floatin' kidney through Skye."
"It's a new trouble, constable, a new trouble discovered
by a German professor. Give me your hand now, officer;
it's easier a little."
Campbell lifted him gently by the oxter, the Butler
leaning heavily and stertorously upon the Law, and at
every stagger groaning.
"It's pricking me, constable; pricking like a knife;
my days are numbered."
"Dhia! if I wars in your boots I wad be gettin' some
pooders from the doctor."
"Powders, sir, powders; I've had some to-night
already; speaking powders they're called. Easy now
at the brae." And the Butler informed Campbell of the
shining qualities of his predecessor McCallum, on the
brae and on the stair, which they were approaching.
"He used to help me up and knock at the door. He's
promoted since to Islay." The tone hinted that the
promotion came from the Butler. Campbell, determined
that in no wise would he come short of the serviceableness
of his predecessor, panted up the stair with his ponderous
burden and knocked at the door. A red-haired, small,
white-faced woman opened it. She looked sleepy and
fatigued.
"Here's the Butler," said Campbell.
She put out a hand and laid hold of her husband, a
sad look creeping into her eyes.
"Ay! ay!" she said wearily; "it's always 'Here's the
Butler.'" She accepted him from the policeman as a
parcel, and closed the door.
"This iss no' the chob for me at aal, at aal," muttered
Campbell of Skye, as he descended the stair; "tekin' home
floatin' kidneys. The muschief iss in this toon."
When he gained the mouth of the close he saw that
mischief indeed was in the town. Harbour Street shone
in a pale glow, and Campbell ran down the brae. As he
came into the Square a terrible sight met his gaze and
petrified him. The fishing-fleet was on fire. He heard
the crackling and splintering of wood, and the roar of
wind-tormented flame.
"Dhia! Dhia! this is the Day of Chudgement," he
muttered, and ran across the Square, up the close and
the stair, and was thundering with his boots and hands
on Gillespie's door.
"Who's there?" came a sharp voice.
Reise! reise! the boats iss on fire!
He continued hammering on the door till Gillespie had
opened it.
"What's that ye're sayin?"
"I'm tellin' you; I'm tellin' you, he panted; "hell's
lowsed on the boats!"
CHAPTER XXIX
A COOL philosophy will recognise the necessity and
worth of such an upheaval as overtook Brieston, for there
can be no redemption without blood. War has its
tremendous sanity, being a moral earthquake in humanity.
Because the primitive vices of violence, cruelty, and
revenge are always near the surface, men are drawn into
the vortex, and do things in the heart of a mob which
they bitterly repent of afterwards. So we find two of
these men who had volunteered to burn the fleet afraid
to make the venture. They had harnessed the boats
together; had soaked here and there a forecastle with
paraffin, and now stood waiting in the lee of the "Shipping
Box" for the parish church bell to ring the midnight hour.
It was cold, dark, and stormy.
"Holy sailor, what a night!" said a subdued voice.
"Noo's the time," urged Red Duncan "the breeze
'ill tek' off wi' the ebb."
A crescent moon was sheering through the clouds like
a silvery fin slicing a phosphorescent sea. Dark-ribbed
waves slouched round the Quay head. A hurried step
was heard coming down Harbour Street beneath the
police station dike.
"Scatter, boys," whispered Red Duncan. The men
vanished like shadows round the "Shipping Box" and
down the Quay. So strong is the sense of property
that the most righteous aggression upon it is not effected
without qualms.
Red Duncan alone stood his ground, desirous to know
who the intruder was. A squat, bulky form came
round the corner of the "Shipping Box." It was Lonend.
Immediately his eyes fell on Red Duncan he asked:
"Where's the rest o' the men?"
Red Duncan answered with a low whistle, and five
shadowy forms crept back to the lee of the "Shipping Box."
For the past hour Lonend had been watching from his
farm door, and becoming impatient had set out to
discover the cause of the delay. On the way he had
nailed a certain paper on to the door of Gillespie's shop.
One of the men who were now gathered round him
muttered that it was an ugly job. It was all very well
for Lonend to talk of burning boats. He was a farmer.
The spring season was upon them. Where would they
get boats for their work? And these boats! Lonend
could not understand. They were old and precious.
Their fathers had lived in them; they were haunted
with memories. New and more daring sails might arise
on the Loch; but never, never would they be such wings
of beauty as those they knew. Every plank, every nail,
every knot in the wood was familiar to them. To burn
this heritage of associations was to commit sacrilege.
They might as well fire the church or their own homes.
Lonend, having listened in silence, began to speak in
a tone of contempt. Why did they not offer their
objections at the meeting, and leave better men to the
job? His voice, rising and falling in the dark, stung
with sarcasm.
"Your boats! they're your boats no longer: ye'll
only be galley-slaves in them."
"Maybe we'll mand to buy them back frae the big
fella' wi' good times."
Lonend exploded in hard laughter. "I'll no' believe
it while there's one bone o' me above the other. The
devil maybe 'ill win back to heaven frae hell; but ye'll
never buy the boats back. Gillespie's got the most o'
ye pledge an' bond, an' noo ye've got him in your hand
oot there. Are ye waens or not, by Goäd? Hae ye
forgotten the black easterly win', an' the hunger, an'
Gillespie wi' his wee papers wi' the stamp, an' McAskill
blinkin' at his side? Hae ye forgotten the wolf, that
ye're anxious to be his slaves? Gie me the torch." He
plucked it from Red Duncan's hands, and appeared to
swell with rage. His ruthless savagery beat upon them
like blows. This was such a torch as they had used
when they had got herring, and lit to attract the notice
of the buyers. They were used to light it in happy times.
The blessing of cot and hearth and Heaven was upon
these torches; they were the light of the seas; the wells
by which men lay; the stars of hope and home. To use
one of them now to provoke hell — it was like giving their
children poisoned bread.
"We canna! we canna burn oor boats."
"Your boats! your boats!" He shook the blackened
torch in their faces; "you'll never sail them again as
free men. What would the old Brieston men have said
to you? They're Gillespie's boats, an' he'll wring oot
your he'rt's blood in them."
"It's the Goäd Almighty's truth," rapped out Red
Duncan; "it's me, boys, that kens Gillespie; he'll strangle
ye lik' a wee bird. They're no' oor boats any longer.
He stole the Bella frae me in the deid o' night in his
back shop, an' noo in the deid o' night I'll tek' her frae
him;" his voice shook with passion.
"Will ye hand them over to the beast Gillespie to
mak' his stable in?" urged Lonend.
"No! by the Lord! I'm wi' ye, Lonen'," Red Duncan
rapped out.
"Awa' hame the rest o' ye; awa' hame to your wife an'
waens, an' be Gillespie's slaves for ever. Burn them, men,
burn them; better to burn them than be trampled on
like dung."
The men still hesitated in sullen mood.
"Hame wi' ye, ye sheep. That'll no save the boats.
Duncan an' me's for the crossing — awa' hame." He
advanced on them as if to crowd them back.
"Who's goin' home?" a voice growled; "it's no' me."
The fellow's temper was roused and raw.
"Be off, the rest o' ye, an' tell the weemin ye were
frightened. They're watching round the toon behind
their windows. Yell be namely in Brieston the morn.
Off wi' ye! I'll gang an' get men, no' a wheen o' Gillespie's
weemin'."
"Shut your mouth, by Goäd, or I'll choke ye!" It
was the voice of Big Finla'. "Are ye wantin' the hale
toon aboot oor ears?
"The hale toon" — Lonend's words fell like a thong on
a raw wound — "the hale toon 'ill ca' ye cowards if ye
dinna come. They're waitin' to see the bleeze" — his
voice rose above the noise of wind and sea — "waitin' at
the windas to see Gillespie's bonfire." His hard laugh
exploded again as he stepped out from the lee of the
"Shipping Box" on to the Quay, and faced the houses
curving round Harbour Street as if they were populous
with fiery eyes — "to see Gillespie's bonfire." His mocking
laughter burst out again — "Gillespie's comin' o' age
the nicht." Big Finla' pushed roughly past Lonend,
descended the steps at the head of the Quay, stepped
aboard the punt and lifted an oar.
"Are ye comin', boys?"
The oar splashed in the water. There was a sound
as of frenzy in the noise — sudden, startling, going home
like a trumpet-call to the hearts of those men. The
magic sound of the oar in their native element sent fire
through their veins. It seemed an eternity since they
had heard this music. For months they had had nothing
to do but stand on the Quay head and watch the seas
lift and break through the scurry of the rain.
"Put the oars on her, boys, to hell oot o' this!" rang
out Red Duncan's voice. They trooped down the slippery
steps and seized the oars. They were like men possessed;
agonised with desire to bury the oar deep in the brine,
and hear the slush of the water about the blade. There
was a human sound in it. In wetting the parched oars
they were slaking their long thirst for the deep. The
wind came in sword-thrusts upon the punt as she spun
round the Quay head. Lonend sat in the stern nursing
the torch to his breast, and shielding it from the breaking
seas. They plunged the blades deep into the sea, and
set their teeth at every stroke. Their lust of battling
with the storm made the punt rock and sheer through the
waves. The water meeting the blade of the oar was too
yielding, and spun away like smoke. They wished for
something solid as iron to wrestle with. The fires of
conflict consumed them. They had been robbed for
long, weary months of their heritage, and now they were
returned from an exile of hunger and blood, of iron, heat,
and plague. They lashed the sea with the oars; no
longer bound upon a mission of revenge, but ravenously
satiating their hunger of the deep. Would that the
storm were louder, the rollers deeper, to try them to the
very citadel of their strength. The bow of the punt
was forced under the head-seas. They were drenched.
The wind sang riotously past; the sea chanted a battle--
cry. They were freed men out in the wide night beneath
the heavens in a challenging gale, and freed men they
would remain. A grim silence sank upon the tossing
boat. Their fear had evaporated. They would have
rowed into the heart of a cyclone. They felt their strength
gigantic. The rowlocks in the bow oar snapped, and a
man tumbled backwards over the beam. His oar was
snatched away on a grey-backed comber. "My oar's
gone to hell, boys; pull away.
In that moment they shot nose first into a skiff. The
man at the bow rose and clutched at her gunwale.
Lonend leapt aboard crying, "My turn now." He
crawled forward, swung himself down by the forward
beam and disappeared. A light glimmered in the forecastle,
wavered a moment and went out. It was followed
by a strong flame. The torch was lit. Lonend heard a
loud cry from Red Duncan. "It's — it's my faither's
boat; the auld Flora, black wi' age."
A tongue of flame peered out of the fo'c'sle door as
if spying upon the night, licked the dark with yellow
tongue, and darted in again. Lonend in the forecastle
saw the dark stain of the paraffin across the lower bunk —
the bunk where many righteous men now dead had slept
the sleep of the weary in wet clothes. He applied the
torch. The flame ran along the oil with greedy swiftness.
There was a crackling of wood.
"One for you, Calum Galbraith," he muttered; "that
score is cleaned." He flung open the trap-door in the
roof. The flame began to roar, and swooped upwards
in a wavering wall. Lonend retreated to the punt.
Thick smoke mingled with lances of fire poured out of
the trap-door. The old Flora was ablaze. Red Duncan
was sitting on the middle beam, an oar astraddle across
his knee. In the lurid glare he saw the dark, determined
face of Lonend, and his greenish cat eyes ablaze with
lust of carnage.
"Go to hell, you devil, after the auld boat!" Red
Duncan screamed, swinging aloft the oar. The punt
wobbled with the jerk as he rose, and sent Lonend
staggering backwards. The oar crashed down on the
gunwale of the skiff and splintered. Red Duncan
collapsed on the beam and turning his back on the
blazing boat began to sob. Presently he leapt to his
feet.
"Good-bye, the auld Flora," he cried; "ye'll hae company
the nicht the wy ye go." He savagely shoved the
punt off. The bow slewed sharply round with the wind,
and plunged into another skiff.
"Gie me the torch!" Red Duncan roared; "the auld
Flora's gone; an' my mither's furniture's gone in the
Back Street bleeze; and my wife's airm. I'll settle
my debt wi' Gillespa' Strang this night, by Goäd!"
He leapt aboard, and flung himself at the forecastle
door.
"Noo ye are men!" cried Lonend. "Gillespie 'ill soon
smell the fire. It'll burn his banknotes, an' his wee
papers wi' the stamps. Ha! ha! ha!" Lonend's wild
sardonic laughter mingled with the crackling of wood.
Fire broke out in the forecastle. Big Finla' leapt
aboard — "I'll no' be behind-hand." He picked up the
torch and jumped into the third boat, his figure gigantic
in the light. The floor of this forecastle was soaked
with paraffin. He dropped on his knees as if about to
pray. A flame wriggled and ran along the wood. He
backed out into the open, slid along the scuttle door on
the roof and "Shove off!" he cried; "the work's done.'
"Where's the torch?" demanded the insatiable Lonend.
"Helpin' the bleeze."
They pushed off the punt, and unshipped the remaining
two oars. With wind and tide abaft she tore through
the glowing water, the deepening roar of the fire behind
them; and the sea ahead lit. Lonend plunged his hands
into the salt water. They were badly burned. His eyes
were fixed astern, where boat after boat appeared to rush
up from a dark well into a scarlet heart. Lonend got a
glimpse of Harbour Street glooming and glancing in the
dissipating darkness.
"Beach her!" he cried; "beach her at once. Brieston
will be as bright as day in five minutes.''
Another glance curdled his blood. Conspiracy can
never perfect its details. These men had overlooked
the fact that some of the boats rode not to chains, but
to ropes attached to their anchors. One of these ropes
had been burned through; and a furnace was drifting
through the Harbour. The property of the innocent
would suffer. In the gale that was blowing nothing
could be done to save the shipping of Brieston from a
holocaust.
"The sooner we're ashore an' hame the better."
"Ay, Lonen'," answered Red Duncan, who was tugging
at an oar; "ye're in as big a hurry to rin awa' as ye
were to hurry to the ploy."
In that moment the bow of the punt grated on the
beach. Lonend splashed ashore and set to running up
the beach. The small patter of his feet was like an
animal's. In that moment it had most vividly occurred
to him that if Gillespie by any chance were awakened
by the glare or roused by any one, he would instantly
suspect the hand of Lonend in the destruction of his
fleet. "It'll just be like the soon deevil to whup off to
Lonen'." Panting stertorously Lonend conceived the
awkwardness of such a position. He would have difficulty
in accounting for his absence from home. He
reached Lonend, not by passing through Harbour Street,
but round the back of the town, and was relieved to find
Campion fully dressed, standing at the gable end smoking
as he watched the superb spectacle in the Harbour below.
"If the Biblical account is taken literally, Mr. Lonend,
this is precisely how the angels above view the other
place below."
In these words Lonend was taught his first great
lesson in tact. He waited, however, for some allusion
to his nocturnal wanderings. Instead this strange youth
added — "I suppose the prince of devils in that lake of
fire below there is Mr. Gillespie Strang. Wonder how he
feels."
At that precise moment Gillespie had stopped dead in
his trot at the foot of the street, which ran from the end
of the Back Street into Harbour Street, where his eye
had caught a solitary figure. He hurried across to
beseech help, and looked into the grave eyes of Mrs.
Galbraith.
"Marget!" he cried; and then suspiciously — "What
are ye doin' here?"
"I came out to see your garden of red roses, and
warm my hands at your fire.
His lower lip was bleeding. "God peety me! I hae
fower thoosan' poun' on fire oot there," and then ran on.
The bitter anguish of his voice touched the woman's
heart. She looked after him with pitying eyes.
"God pity us indeed," she thought; "we've both our
price to pay for this night's work," and she turned home
with drooping head; her heart filled with loathing as she
thought of Lonend.
Harbour Street was empty, save for the trotting
figure of Gillespie. It was a sinister solitude. Looking
up at the windows flaring along the sea-front he saw
them lined with faces as if steeped in blood. He stood
between those faces and the flames, a man friendless,
deserted, pitiable as a solitary figure in a vast empty
city. Behind him he felt a heat which made him grow
cold with horror, in front of him he sensed an inimical
living wall. The horror behind pricked him to cast
supplicating glances upwards.
"Will no one come an' gie me a hand to save the boats?"
The eyes of those faces were withdrawn from the
Harbour and gazed down on him; but no one answered.
Some of the eyes were cold; some malicious; some raining
down hatred; others smiling. The smiling eyes made
him shiver. They taught him to what a depth he had
sunk in the estimation of the people. He passed along
with his back to the sea, his face upturned to the windows,
like a beggar beseeching alms, till he recognised
he was running a gauntlet of eyes. There was something
brutal, malevolent, fiendish in the spectacle of Gillespie
in that lurid amphitheatre. Another man would have
cried on the hills to cover him. Gillespie began walking
between the houses and the breast-wall in a semicircle,
like a mesmerised animal, and staggered as if drunk. A
window was flung up; a woman's voice screamed — "Go
an' save the boats; they're yours. Ye stealt them frae
honest men. Away! away! ye thief. Thon's hell ye've
set in a lowe. Its burnin' for ye oot yonder."
Gillespie did not hear her. He was walking now in a
circle. His face looked demented. Suddenly he came
to a halt as if baffled, his protruding eyes on the boats
burning fiercely to the water's edge. He put up his
hands to his throat, and fell prone on the street, upon
the field of Armageddon.
CHAPTER XXX
A DENSE fire-smell was drifting across the town. The
hills in the north-west were wrapped in thick smoke. The
Harbour had the appearance of blazing oil. It seemed
as if the wind blew in sheets of flame, over which a
multitude of sparks danced grotesquely. The walls of
the houses along the Quay were now hot. Fortunately the
wind was south and by west blowing out of the Harbour.
A new terror was added to the sublime panorama of fire.
Boats whose anchor ropes were burnt were adrift and
sagged, pillars of flame down the Harbour. Right in
their track ran out the long foreland beneath Muirhead
Farm, clothed to the water's edge with fir. A blazing
boat struck inside the point; another came down drunkenly
upon her. The damp fir at first refused to take
fire. Soon it was scorched with the fierce heat, and
presently the firs on the edge of the water tossed tresses
of fire to the night. In a short space of time a wall of
scarlet fire stalked before the wind on the foreland. The
fir wood spread left and right, and deeply ahead to the
edge of the Laigh Park beneath Muirhead. It was in
this direction the fire travelled. In the added glare the
town was strung around the bay in naked outline, like a
town built at the foot of the mountains of the moon,
whose windows were molten gold. There was a blinding
glare in the sky. The atmosphere was choking with a
burning smell. It was at this point, when the fleet was
ablaze and the shepherds and moorsmen beyond Beinn an
Oir were disturbed by the glow in the heavens, that Gillespie
fell in Harbour Street as he stood watching a splendid
ladder of flame in the heart of the fleet. It had a rhythmic
movement which fascinated the eye. Its flat, jagged
head oscillated backwards and forwards slowly, like the
head of a snake. This was the main sheet of flame,
whose splendour and terror mesmerised. It took a
hundred fantastic shapes — now like the chain mail of
warriors tearing at each other with bloody hands in a
cauldron; now like witches with streaming hair of flame;
like ghosts in winding-sheets of Tophet; and again like
a wall of beaten gold. In greater gusts of the wind the
wall swayed, bellied, and broke, and great golden balloons
hovered in the air. At the foot of this wall vicious
tongues leapt out everywhere, seized the cordage, writhed
about the masts, licking everything in their path; united
and fanned upwards, they swooped across the golden
wall as if fighting for life. The anchor chains were red
hot; spars crackled like musketry and hissed in the sea.
Stars seemed falling from heaven. The wall of flame
swayed and bent, and fell across the boats like gigantic
flowers. The Harbour was a sea of fire; the tide like blood.
The wind veered to the north-west as the fire lapped up
the anchor rope of one of its last victims. She drifted
before the wind — a core of flame up the Harbour. Burning
fiercely she careened; her forefoot rose, a red tortured
wound, and splitting with a roar she settled down by the
stern with a loud hissing noise. A minor darkness fell
across the house-fronts when she vanished. The appalling
roar of fire surmounted the drone of the waves and
terrified Brieston. The heat in Harbour Street became
intense with the change of wind; and powdered with
ashes, was hot as from the ovens of the Cyclops. Clouds
of grey smoke rolled in upon the town. The hills surged
up out of the golden lake, alone immune beneath a bluish
mist. A strong perfume exuded from the pines, as if they
were giving up their life in the parched atmosphere. Some
titanic maleficent power was abroad. This was no longer
vengeance upon Gillespie but supernatural terror. The
red foam of hell was being brewed upon the tortured face
of the night.
With the north-west wind came the rain, falling in
fiery spears. It lashed upon Gillespie, who opened his
eyes and felt as if a mountain lay upon his breast. He
began to pant and gasp for air, and rolling on his side
saw the house-fronts pallid, naked, and solemn in the broad
glare. A flight of screaming birds drove over his head.
The maddened beating and rush of their wings was
terrifying. Tongues of flame appeared to him to be
playing about the windows; and his eyeballs burned at
the sight. He thought Brieston was on fire beneath a
volcanic cloud of smoke. He staggered to his feet and
faced the Square. Scarlet rain was falling across the rigging
of his house. This made the night more terrible than
it was from all the mad beating of wings, the screaming
of sea-fowl, the roar of fire, the crackling of wood, and
the hissing in the sea like steam. His tall house was
threatened and his shop. Gillespie threw up his head,
and ran at the top of his speed towards his home. With
a sob of relief he found he had been the victim of an
hallucination, and quaked with nerves unstrung at this
strange experience. Gillespie for the first time in his
life had encountered something beyond the realm of the
material. He went into the house and searched for
whisky. Topsail Janet and his wife were cowering in
the front parlour. At sight of his face his wife rose,
her own face like ashes, her eyes suddenly enlarged with
terror, her breath coming in short, quick pants.
"Whusky!" he gasped. His knees were bowed, his
shoulders hunched forward. Topsail jerked round her
head, her mouth wide open, upon her mistress, and slowly
rose and shuffled out of the room. She descended the
stair, trailed along the passage to the washing-house,
and unearthed a half-mutchkin bottle quarter full, where
it was concealed among the house coal in the washing--
house. She hurried back with it to Gillespie. As he
drank dawn broke sullenly over a rainy sea. The boats
were burned. The rain had extinguished the last of the
flames. The planting below Muirhead was smouldering,
and a sour smoke oozing upwards. The rocks were
blackened like cold lava; the trees stretched out bare
black boughs. The wood had a crucified look. Harried
ribs and charred spars were floating over the Harbour
seeking for a sanctuary or a grave. A saturnine silence
lay upon the smoke-blackened town. Dead gulls lay on
the shore street, their plumage covered with fine soot,
their beaks yellowed with smoke. The wind mourned
in the skeletons of the boats.
Gillespie stood looking at the charred embers bobbing
on the waves with ironic jerk. Benighted, he was sinking
in a sea of profound misery. He could not understand
why he had been visited with wrath. He lived over his
life again in that searching half-hour. He did not summon
it; it appeared as a picture before his eyes, standing
against the wall of this strange supernatural visitation
which had afflicted him. He saw above the wall a line
of menacing, silent faces, and hedged around it a reinless
fire. Suddenly his life shrunk. In the face of those
mighty forces it became pinched, acerb, ill-directed;
puny in the face of a power beyond his control, a vast
demoniac force which he had despised. His soul was
frizzled as by a baleful cometary rush through it. He
stood gazing at his blackened altar, like the priests of
Baal when the controversy was summarily finished on
Carmel by the fire of heaven licking up their obscene
sacrifices.
But Gillespie in that hour had no qualms about Divine
judgment. He had been hemmed in with fire and hatred,
and in physical weakness had experienced an hallucination.
He laid his account to the mob. The people he
had considered a carcass set down for his prey; and lo!
the carcass had developed a brain and an eye of raging
malice. He had no sense of awe in his ostracism. His
was not a lofty sorrow. He had made no daring aggression
upon Fate, had woven no splendid purple pall
over the dead body of an exalted hope. The corpse of
avarice was swathed in rags. The little breasts of his
mate, greed, could never have become pregnant with
great life. The avaricious are held in some measure of
esteem so long as they are not ruthless; for the most
part of humanity is engaged in laying up goods; but
there is a stronger sense in humanity than that of possession
— the sense of justice. Gillespie was punished
because he had derided the permanent things of life,
which humanity have learned to prize through centuries
of the discipline of immitigable sorrow, vicissitude, and
blood. To deride those permanent things is to flout
the hope and ideals which in the breast of mankind
have borne privation, suffering, and death with fortitude
and patience. For innocence, youth, laughter, friendship,
natural ties, and even death Gillespie had had neither
bowels of sympathy nor compassion. He had been self--
centred in rearing his house of life and filling it with his
own peculiar idols. The precious things of man's soul
outraged took their inevitable revenge. Gillespie had
not denied the deity; he had committed the sin of the
fallen angels; and before his assault upon what is eternal
in the breast of humanity, he had encountered the grim
judicial award gained by those who would usurp the
function and authority of God. The penalty visited him
unerringly, and Gillespie wizened in the slow wrath of
God. The menacing dictum of the ancient Hebrew
prophets that Jehovah is a just paymaster was fulfilled
upon his head.
The mob had struck him a crushing blow. He admitted
so much as he saw the solans flying northward across the
morning moon. He watched their flight pondering.
Not for months had they visited the Loch. The herring
"eye" was surely moving. His mouth closed in a grim
line.
"They'll come on their knees to me yet," he said
aloud; "best face to Greenock noo. I'll show them the
stuff that's in Gillespa' Strang." He determined to go
down and open the shop.
Fine ashes drifted in the Square. The whole town
after the rain glistened, slate and window.
Gillespie had been like an open oyster, fancying he had
been swallowing the ocean, whereas he was but a fragile
thing in the shadow of iron rocks, liable to battering and
disaster from the unquiet waves of his creek, which are
but the hoarse lips of the titanic deep. The oyster,
nevertheless, will not believe otherwise than that the
whole ocean is its world. So a look of decision came
into his haggard face, making rigid the lines about his
mouth as he took the shop keys from his jacket pocket.
There was something napoleonic in his attitude. He
imagined he had acquired wisdom from calamity, whereas
he had only learned a deeper cunning. Disaster was
schooling him in a prudence of which he had more than
sufficient already. It was not teaching him contrition
or righteousness. With tightened mouth he began to
order his life anew for another bout with Fate. Nothing
worse could occur to him, he thought. He did not dream
that a more grievous thing than the loss of a fleet could
be laid up in the treasury of Heaven's wrath. He was
ignorant of the doom which had haunted his mother's
life with dread and horror. He set his face as he descended
the stair to retrieve his fortune. He would be
more wary, more deft, a deeper watcher of occasions, a
spy upon this land of giants, as he plucked the grapes.
With the most vigilant scrupulousness he would trim his
sails, and pull his claws further within their sheath to
pad among men more noiselessly. Men, he saw, cannot
be mocked without limit; but they can be cajoled.
The bitterness of these late months had caused him to
overreach himself. The rabble was a vast capricious
engine which can sweat for you or ravin upon you. He
would exercise a more watchful eye upon the fly-wheel
in future. It must not break loose again in chaos. He
would cunningly guide it in the groove of service.
He was about to insert the large polished steel key
in the hole of the front door of the shop when his eye
fell upon a placard nailed to the door. The writing was
in large letters of ink. A dim recollection of having seen
this placard before stirred in the chambers of memory.
Ah! he remembered. It was on the door of Galbraith's
farm at Muirhead. Slowly he read the missive, and as he
read a sudden trembling seized him. He had a feeling
in that moment of being dogged by unseen, implacable
vindictiveness.
THIS HOUSE IS DEAD.
IT HAS BEEN MURDERED.
IT IS BURIED IN THE GRAVE OF A WOMAN'S
HEART.
"BE NOT DECEIVED; GOD IS NOT MOCKED: FOR WHATSOEVER
A MAN SOWETH, THAT SHALL HE ALSO REAP."
He smiled sourly. "Oot o' your reckonin'; oot o'
your reckonin' this time, Marget. There's nae wumman."
He had forgotten that piece of chattels, his wife. "I'll
mak' short work o't this time," he muttered vindictively,
and tearing the placard off the door, scattered on the
pavement the fragments on which the drift soot of the
wrecked fleet fell. He wheeled about, gazing at the
cold face of Brieston, the fragments of the placard
beneath his heel. Pale and dry as clay with vigil,
and haggard with shock, he presented a piteous spectacle
beneath the overarching solemnity and loneliness of the
dawn. And the sun shone upon the skeleton of his fleet.
END OF BOOK II
BOOK III
CHAPTER I
THE burn divides Brieston, in respect of its armies —
the Barracks Boys north and west of the burn; the
Quay Boys south and east.
The legions drilled, one at the old Castle behind the
Quay, the other at the Barracks. Their swords were
laths which the luggage steamer brought in bundles for
Toddle Peter, slater and plasterer, himself a lath of a
man.
The Captain of the Quay army had little appearance
of a warrior, being small, thin-faced, pale, meagre in look,
long-haired. His eyes were arresting: quick and sharp,
they burned with internal fires. The spey-wife, whose
husband, a MacCann from Ardmarkie, had deserted her
and three children, and who made a living by selling
cockles gathered in West Loch Brieston to Gillespie,
observed the boy's eyes upon her as she counted her
cockles in the store.
"He's got an eye like a traivellin' rat," she said to
Gillespie, with one of MacCann's Irish oaths.
"A chip o' the auld block," Gillespie answered.
The boy, secretly pleased, from that moment practised
the battery of his eyes in drilling and in fighting, because
he had an itch to excel.
Gillespie was at the back of the store searching for a
bag to hold the cockles, and the boy heard the cockle-wife
sigh as she straightened her back. She saw compassion
in his eyes.
"Ay! Tam's taen up wi' another wumman in Ardmarkie,
an' the ault mear's left to bear the burden."
She told him to be good to his mother. Another sorrow
was added to the boy's life. He was finding that in the
world there is much cruelty and heartache, and because
he could not analyse the causes of things, and his lively
imagination fed superficially on what he saw, he wasted
an enormous amount of pity, and was tortured in the
silence of his breast. Only last week he had suffered in
another fashion. On his way to school he had been
cajoled into his father's slaughter-house. It was a back
yard littered with empty boxes and straw behind MacCalman's
Lane where Gillespie housed the country vans.
Big Jumbo the butcher was standing in the midst of the
yard lighting a blackened cutty, his hairy arms naked
and rusty with gore. Having lit his pipe he led out from
the shed a famished beast, brick-red, with fallen flanks,
and broken-kneed. Its coat was muddy, its tail worn,
its horns stumps — "one of Gillespie's beasts." It
stumbled and stopped, sniffing among the straw, and was
dragged forward by a rope twisted about its stubby horns.
Suddenly it cried. It was not a bellow, not a bleat,
but a half-human cry, as if knowledge of its doom had
come upon it. It was trailed forward with its fore-knees
raking the ground. The bovine wail reached the heart
of the boy, who in that moment recalling what he had
read in the Bible — "He can send legions of angels" —
prayed silently for these angels of flame to come and
blast this devil, who, coolly smoking, was trussing up
the beast's feet. It lay on its flanks, its cheek flat on
the straw, the weight of its head pressing on the stubbed
horn. The great brown eyes, the boy imagined, were
looking into his with a liquid sob of fear. They gnawed
him in mute appeal; they were as darkened window,
out of which gloomed the horror of a great gulf of darkness.
The muddied flank, with the hollow in the side,
so pitiably shrunken, was heaving and falling with deep
pants, and the tail whisking feebly, like the hand of a
little child beating gently as it falls asleep. The boy
wanted to cry out for mercy; it was his father's cow,
let the butcher spare it. But there was a crowd gathered.
He was afraid of crowds, afraid they would see his
quivering body.
"Any one like to try his hand wi' the hammer?" this
fiend was saying; "a tap is a' she needs."
As the boy turned his eyes away from the terrified
innocence at his feet, he felt something hard thrust into
his hand, and looking down saw the blackened polished
haft of the slender hammer.
"Here, young 'un; now's the time to learn."
He felt petrified: the haft dropped weakly from his
hand.
"No muckle o' Gillespa' aboot you." The boy blushed
at the insolence. The butcher spat in his hands; and
Eoghan, Gillespie's son, turned his head away and closed
his eyes. He heard a dull thud. When he opened them
again a black moist muzzle pointed skywards, and a
glaze like thin grey mud was gathering over the brown
eyes. Something beautiful had been ruthlessly stamped
out there. A flame of anger surged over him. Big Jumbo
was bending over the dying beast. Running up to
him Eoghan swung his leg viciously, and blindly kicking
the butcher on the ankle, turned and fled through the
yard. As he gained the entrance gate he felt the air
suddenly blow icily cold about his cheek, and almost
instantaneously the hammer-head crashed on the gable
wall in front of him. With his blood on fire now he swerved,
and picking up the hammer fled down MacCalman's Lane,
past the Bank, and through the Square to the breast--
wall, where, planting his feet with his back to the sea,
and whirling the hammer around his head as he had
seen athletes do at the Regatta Sports, he swung it out
in a flying curve into the Harbour. A thrill went through
him at the "plout" with which it took the sea, and
his eyes danced at the jet of foam it flung up. Lust and
cruelty, rapine and crime, were buried in the cool oblivion
of the cleansing water, which closed down over the horror
of pain, darkness, and death which he had seen through
the fathomless windows of a cow's eyes.
At four o'clock he crept home quaking with his bundle
of books. At the tea-hour Gillespie stood tweaking his
ear.
"Let him be, Gillespie," pleaded his mother.
Gillespie frowned on her. "I'm no' goin' to alloo
such wastery."
The boy made no external sign that he was suffering
even when he thought his father would tear the ear from
his head. His thin face turned the colour of clay.
Gillespie suddenly pushed him violently against a chair.
"Ye'll tak' to the wulks every day the school comes
out, an' on Setturdays, till ye mak' up the price o' the
hammer."
The boy, devouring his mother's face with his eyes,
felt himself strangling for the pain that he saw there.
He made no answer to his father.
"Do ye hear me, Eoghan?"
"Ay."
"Weel, keep guid mind o't. Lonen's no deid when
you're leevin'; gang noo an' greet behind your mother's
bratty."
"I winna greet for anything ye can do," the boy
shouted, and bolted from the kitchen.
He was stubborn enough then, and hardy enough to
command an army by a brain fired with the stuff of books.
Gillespie's business had expanded so rapidly that Topsail
Janet's "penny dreadfuls" had been jettisoned into a
corner. The boy's grandmother would have trembled
to have seen him devour those romances, as he lay in
the warm heather and fashioned phalanxes going out to
war. Another clog-maker had inhabited a corner of
one of the stores, and Gillespie, for reasons of thrift,
ordered a pair of clogs for his son. The steel-shod soles
rang loudly on the pavements, and the boy conceived a
cavalry regiment, each member of which, shod in clogs,
was a mighty charger. The regiment thus armed marched
on a bleared evening, stepping quietly to encounter the
Barrack's troops. Waving a lath above his head the
boy yelled out "Charge!" and thirty pairs of clogs
thundered along the pavements of the Square. At the
clamorous onset the Barracks troops became a panic--
stricken rout, and a notable victory was achieved.
The chiefs of his army he then led to the dungeon
beneath the Castle — a thirty-foot cavern, with a low roof
arched with black stone, slimed with lime, and hanging
with stalactites. A dim light was admitted at the low
end by a thin slit in its two-foot wall. He told them,
gathered round a candle, of mediæval prisoners who had
groaned and suffered the last extremity there, of brownies
on the braes without, whom his grandmother from the
"Ghost" had chased with a graip when she was digging
potatoes, and of maleficent beings in the quarry beneath
them behind the Quay, of whom there was a song:
"Did ye ever see the devil,
Wi' his cock-a-bandy shovel,
Howkin' in the Quarry for potatoes?
He washed them in a well,
An' he roasted them in h—l."
Try as he might, he could never find a rhyme for his
last line. But there was a tale which came from beyond
Knapdale with his grandmother — he did not know it was
part of the drift-lore of Europe as far as Hungary — of a
piper who had entered the dungeon, and by a secret
passage now lost had crossed beneath the Harbour to the
caves of Beinn an Oir, where he had been devoured by rats.
On still nights a plaintive music of bag-pipes arises out of
the sea. And Nelson! He sang of that sea-hero thundering
at the gates of bleached Spanish towns, and of
men naked to the waist and black with powder, fighting
ankle-deep in the blood of the scuppers. Nor could he
forget Bruce, the walls of whose Castle rose frowning
above the dungeon, and remembering the strategy at
Bannockburn he proposed to use rabbit-traps — of which
there was an abundance at the "Ghost" — and lure the
Barracks army into this snare.
Night after night he lay awake planning strategy
and fighting again ancient battles. Solemnities, obsequies,
mourning for the dead seized upon his imagination,
and he came to fashion the Red Burial. Once he had
seen a vault opened and shuddered at the yellow rainwaters
within. It would be no such place for his dead,
but a mausoleum set in a grove of trees with a clear
water in the midst. In the Bible he had read of pillars
of cedar wood, columns of brass and beaten gold. The
walls would be wrought of marble, adorned with ivory,
and a blazing stone on the head of the tomb — the Eye of
Light.
He prepared his chiefs to carry out the obsequies of the
only son of a widow — he was influenced here by the
narrative of the widow of Nain — whom they must carry
forth by torch-light when in the valley the muskets
would flash, the trumpets cry among the rocks, and the
bag-pipes wail in the hills. Trembling, and the eyes in
the thin face ablaze in the candle-light, he told of the
splendour of the gems upon the tomb, and of how with
swords sloped they would enter upon that funeral mareh
from the Quay, while the salvoes rolled in the dark hills
over their war-chant for the dead. They sang and sang
again the requiem; and those appointed to the drums,
which were large tin cans, laboured at the rehearsal till
the rites were known.
The V-shaped flights of birds which pass over the
town had flown westward in the twilight when the band
assembled on the Quay head, in the teeth of a hungry
wind, which went wailing in the shrouds of the ships
and gloomed upon the town. The hills stood out clear-cut
in the last of the hard dry light.
The regiment drawn up awaited the signal when the
shop-lights should break out along the sea-front. It was
that hour of greyness before lamplight when men come
home from their labours and the birds have left the sky,
and eye after eye the first stars begin the life of the night
— the hour of waiting on the earth.
Suddenly the entrance to Gillespie's shop and its plate--
glass windows stood out warm and bright towards the
Harbour, and the regiment became restive.
"Steady! steady there!" the command rang out.
The large green and red bottles shone in the window
of the Medical Hall. One by one around Harbour Street
the lights broke out in a curve of gold.
"Ready!"
At the command the lanterns were lit.
"By the right, quick march!"
Shoulder to shoulder the boy-army passed up the
street of the old sea-town in silence. In the Square they
wheeled and fronted the shops. Some of the fishermen
had followed them from the Quay head; others joined
them on the way and stood now along the Medical Hall
and the Bank. The coffin — it had once contained ginger--
beer bottles — was laid on the ground, and the lanterns were
raised and lowered in the manner of signalling. A second
time they were raised and held aloft, and a low, mournful
chanting came from the bearers of the dead, and mingled
with the sobbing of the sea around the Harbour wall:
"Carry up a soldier, carry up a soldier,
Carry up a soldier to the old churchyard."
The appointed bearers lugubriously waved their lanterns
in slow passes.
"It's Gillespa's son," some one said. The fishermen
had ceased talking; windows were thrown open; the
Banker and his wife were on the doorstep; Kyle the
chemist, who was always so busy that he was rarely seen
at his door, was out in his apron; the Butler on the road
to Brodie's was at the foot of the brae where it runs into
the Square, a man of amazement; Pat, the doctor's
driver, retreated from the Square which he had intended
to cross to the ironmonger's. Brieston waited and
watched.
The black box was again shouldered high, and the legion
wheeled and headed for MacCalman's Lane. With a
crash of drums the chant broke out again above the wash
of the sea
"Hear his mother weeping, hear his mother weeping,
Hear his mother weeping near the old churchyard."
The music wailed along MacCalman's Lane into the
Back Street, trailing away to the right into the dark
empty road leading to the churchyard.
To the Captain the air was full of grief and wailing.
He had forgotten he was in MacCalman's Lane and that
a horde of boys was at his back, as he crouched forward
into the darkness of the graveyard road. Terror was
about him — an unknown form of fear bestriding the dark,
a monstrous danger, the flapping of carrion wings on a
battlefield, a rushing in the air as of death. He repressed
his sobs as he walked by the coffin, ahead of the long
steel-shod tramp which rolled behind him as the noise of
battle. He heard the shock of armies, and saw their
onset in the thick of night; and when the drums crashed
out again and the dirge rose 'plaining
"Hear the trumpets wailing, hear the trumpets wailing,
Hear the trumpets wailing in the old churchyard."
he ground his fists in his eyes, for he saw ahead the gates
of the graveyard, and, passing on in imagination down
the avenue between the yew-trees dripping in the dark,
came on the widow mother weeping upon the mould, and
heard the sound of wailing women among the rocks
behind the grave. It was no mausoleum; but a hole
in the ground of damp yellow clay shining out like dull
gold:
"See the rifles flashing, see the rifles flashing,
See the rifles flashing in the old churchyard."
Away towards the loom of the hills he saw the gun--
flashes, and the dark above the graveyard streaked with
lines of fire. Around him the threnody rose and fell,
full of the abandoned weeping of the mother. The mouth
of the night opened like an inferno; the hills were full
of red artillery. Spit! spit! Crack! crack! and the
dead lay so solemn still through it all. The slow tramp,
tramp behind him was pushing him on to a place of
tears, woe, and horror; it was deepening into a sullen
roar of doom. In another minute he would not be able
to stem that tide of savage sound, and would be swept
forward through the big wide gates of the graveyard,
which led to that yellow damp hole in the ground. He
was moving now in a trance; changing into stone; a
heavy sleep was falling on his limbs; but his mind saw
vividly the night ahead fearful with rifle-fire, snarling
with trumpets, and stormy with the wailing of distraught
women. A burning picture surged up before him of the
dishevelled mother, her face stamped with a pale unearthly
radiance upon the background of the night. It
was his mother's face. It floated in the dark, essaying to
rise, but could not for the weight of its sorrow. It was
far away, flat like a picture on a dark wall. The eyes
were upon him, full of unuttered pain and dim with
ineffable tenderness.
"See the muskets flashing in the old churchyard."
The rifle-fire poured out like red rain, and fell like shooting
stars over the pale face framed on the wall of the
night; streaming over her it washed her face in blood.
He heard her moan wandering on the wind.
The beating of his heart was stifling him, and the
feet behind hounding him on. With a groan he shook
off the fascination of the face, the mesmerism of the
feet, and wheeling, fled swiftly as from an accursed
place. Behind his back the night opened flash upon flash
as the guns spat over the grave ….
He burst in upon his mother and Topsail Janet, who
cried out at his ghastly appearance.
"What ails the laddie? Hae ye seen a ghost?"
"I'm feart, mither, I'm feart; they're buryin' a sodger
in the kirkyard."
His mother lifted her head from gazing at the fire and
let it droop again.
"Dinna bother your mither the nicht, laddie, wi' your
nonsense; she's no' feelin' weel," wheedled Topsail.
The boy crouched on the fender, and now and again
cast a hungry eye upon his mother's face.
CHAPTER II
His sanctuary in the aisles of the derelict smacks was
desecrated for ever by the sad incursion of fact. There
he had passed the most marvellous hours, sailing in shining
ships down the wind, through purple seas, past grey
navies, into ocean harbours beyond the flower-like isles
of the deep. As he gazed up at the high, carved sterns
and broken bulwarks, the thought of the strange lands
these black ships had sailed to moved him strangely.
On Saturdays he had aboard a press-gang, whom he set
to the task of warping out a slaver for the Caribees, or a
Viking to foray in the High Hebrides. Himself stood on
the poop, a pilot of pirates, shouting the most incongruous
sea-terms — Full speed ahead! Stand by the winch! and the
like. A cloud of long ships of war sailed in his wake —
keen battle-hawks harrying the sea-board of the west.
He fought to the death against great odds, his battered
fleet rolling sullenly in the gales, and his dead on the
deck with their faces to the moon. His ships vanished
in spindrift with the dim grandeur of death upon them,
past lonely coasts till they huddled in the last harbours
upon the rim of the world.
Those fond sea-fights gave place to strife in reality,
and the boy suddenly emerged into the vicissitudes of a
too early youth. He had quietly stolen into the Butler's
shop with a message from Lonend, about whose farm he
loved to wander. Brodie and Maclean were there, with
some others whom he knew only by name. He withdrew
into a shy corner and waited till the Butler should notice
him.
"They put in four new elders. They'd my name
among twenty. Duncan the shoemaker told me" — the
Butler was speaking.
"You wouldn't stand," wheezed Brodie.
"There's plenty devils there already. Thomson, a
bell-mouthed man; he'd tell the fleas he catches in his
shirt. The tide-waiter, wi' the dropsy in his eyes, blinkin'
like a hoodie standing on a stone. Might as well have
Peepin with his crooked nose. Sinclair, a cat! but he's
better since he married again. Now on Sundays he wears
four different rigs; his him hat in the afternoon; that's
what put him in. And Gillespie. Well! well! there's
aye a Judas. He'd lift the kirk away on his back if
he could manage it, the thief."
At that moment the Butler lifted his head and looked
into Eoghan's eyes. He gazed for a second, and his eyes
fell before the boy's. Eoghan had a sharpness of intuition
which, through a loose word or an unwary look, touched
the pulse of men's minds. He sensed an inimical atmosphere
and that the Butler's eyes had fallen nonplussed.
He crept like one beaten out of the shop. It was the
tea-hour when he reached home. His father was standing
at the table cutting a loaf. His jacket shone, elbow and
sleeves; his wristbands were frayed; a battered sailor's
cap was a-rake on his head; the tip of his tongue protruded.
"I used to mand ten shaves off a loaf; noo there's
only nine. That baker's a fair robber." He flung off his
cap and sat down to table. Eoghan, with his slice of
bread ready buttered and cut in two, was lifting his
hand when he overturned the cup. The tea drenched
the bread and scalded his leg. He sat like a stone, the
yellowish sodden mass before him. His father glanced
at him and went on eating. Eoghan was hungry, but
dared not stretch out his hand for another piece of bread.
Furtively his mother pushed her slice to him across the
oil-cloth.
"Just so, auld wife, spoil him. Ye'll keep the other
slice an' gie 't to him the morn for his breakfast. Mind,
noo."
Eoghan, with eyes bent on the veined oil-cloth, rose
from the table, gulping back hot tears of anger.
"Whaur hae ye been the day?" asked his father.
"Nowhere."
"Nowhere! its time ye were oot the school. When I
was your age I'd my ain basket o' lines an' money in the
bank. Idlin' your time. Ye'll tek' the lines an' go oot
to the banks the morn an' try for whiteys. They're
shullin's the stone ee noo." Gillespie rubbed the back
of an eczema-blotched hand across his mouth. His
father's imperviousness maddened Eoghan. To breathe
the least of his youth's ambitions would be to drink
bitterness; and he felt that a prophecy of something
signal in life was upon his brow.
"I'm no' goin' to be a fisherman," he said stubbornly,
defending his prophecy.
"An' what is my gentleman goin' to be?"
"Mr. Kennedy asked me if I would like to go to the
University." This request had changed the current of
the boy's life and gave him a land of dreams. McAskill
had shown him a photograph of Glasgow University, over
whose stately edifice he had pored by the hour.
"Let the schoolmaister pey for your coallegin', then,"
Gillespie answered tartly, and left the room.
The boy, much troubled, accosted Topsail Janet that
evening. "I heard them in the Butler's shop call my
father a thief."
"Wheest! wheest! Eoghan; it's no' for thae trash
to speak o' him. He keepit a wheen o' them through
many a hungry winter. Ye should be prood o' your
faither. He's the richest man in Brieston; an' it's no'
for you to be heedin' thae kiss-ma-futs. Your faither's
a savin' man for us a'. It's everything in the world to
hae a good faither. Ye'll get your he'rt crackit noo an'
again in the world, but that's naethin' if ye hae a gude
hame. An' its your faither that's battlin' wi' the world
to keep the roof ower a' oor heids."
Still troubled, Eoghan walked through the Square, and
down Harbour Street on his way to the "Ghost." Was
he wrong, after all, to accept the Butler's opinion of his
father, and was not Topsail right? Early and late his
father slaved — watching for the boats before dawn; behind
the counter all day; and wrestling with his ledgers at
night. There was a murky light in the store, and he
peered in at the window. He saw his father stooping
over a bag, counting oysters. A guttering torch splayed
the interior with great shadows and patches of smoke.
The store was draughty and slushy; cold, cheerless, damp.
The patient figure within went on rising and stooping
at its lonely toil. Eoghan recalled the eczema on his
father's hands. It would never heal with such raw
work. The tears welled up in his eyes; he wanted to go
in and help; but was too sensitive. What excuse could he
offer? He turned away and hurried home.
"Mother," he said, "you'll no quarrel wi' father the
night?" Those quarrels were frequent.
"No! I'll no' quarrel," she answered weariedly.
Towards ten o'clock Gillespie came in. He unlaced his
boots and straightened his back.
"I'm fashed wi' rheumatics in my shouther," he said;
and laid his hand on his shoulder-blade.
"Late again at your books" — Eoghan burned with
mortification as he heard his mother's querulous voice —
"ye'd think you hadn't a wife."
"Bonnie wife," he growled; "she does a' the compleenin'
an' I dae a' the work." In a moment the quarrel
was full-pitched. Eoghan held his mother a traitor who
had broken the peace incontinent. He looked savagely
at her, and went off to bed without saying good-night.
In the morning he poured some syrup on a spoon for
his porridge — Gillespie allowed no milk — and sullenly
traced out golden curves with the viscous stuff across the
half-cold slab of meal. His mother poured him out a cup
of tea.
"There's no bread in the house," she said with an
abstracted air.
Eoghan, looking up, saw crumbs only on the bread-plate,
and a pang shot to his heart, a sudden fear of penury.
"No bread?"
"No."
"Has my faither no money?"
She smiled faintly. "He has plenty in the bank."
He felt relieved; but was puzzled. His mother looked
very pale; there were thin blue veins on her trembling
hands. A vague fear assailed him. He searched for his
cap and stole away to school full of pity and dread.
He found no respite that day from his torment. Passing
on his road to school at the dinner-hour he loitered at the
end of the Back Street, where certain women were baiting
the lines. It was a raw day.
"Cold work?" he said.
Black Jean could not resist a jibe and snarled:
"Ay! an' a' for Gillespa's son."
Nan at Jock saw the pained look on the boy's flushed
face.
"Never heed her, Eoghan; her bark's worse nor her
bite. Think shame, Jean, speakin' that wy."
As Eoghan walked away with bent head he heard Nan at
Jock's angry voice. "Let the boy alone, wi' his mother
puttin' up blood as black as coomb," and the angrier
retort — "No wonder; thon slasher o' a man aye huntin'
her the wy the boys hunt wee cuddies at the Quay."
Eoghan was now full of the wildest apprehensions. At
four o'clock he went to the shop to ask his father what
Black Jean meant. A smack had arrived with a cargo
of coal from Ardrossan. The rawness of the afternoon
had turned to rain. The Square was rutted with the
frequent passage of carts to the ree, black with coal-dust,
and deep in mud; and the coal itself was sodden and
foul. Gillespie, wearing an apron, and a pen in the left
ear, was standing at his shop door watching the carters.
Eoghan told him what he had heard.
"She said that, did she?" he interrogated with a grin.
"I'm gled she minds she's in my debt. She'll hae to
shell a wheen mair mussels afore she'll pey me the last
boll o' meal I gied her. Tak' that cairt," he roared across
the Square, "up to Stuart."
The little bow-legged man ran to the head of the
horse, jerked the reins, and wheeled the beast round to
the brae. A word from Gillespie had galvanised him.
Eoghan felt himself dismissed. There was something
ruthless, despotic in his father.
"Mother," he said, throwing down his books, "are ye
no' feeling well?"
"I'm bothered with my breath." Her face was pale.
"Will I go for the doctor?" His voice was trembling;
he felt sick.
She shook her head.
"The doctor told me long ago to take a little drop of
spirits. It gives me ease."
He started forward eagerly.
"I'll go for some."
"I've no money, Eoghan: your father doesn't allow
it."
Rage choked him. He clenched his hands as he stood
looking at her, and a wave of devouring tenderness surged
over him.
"Don't you fret, mother. I'll get money."
He returned to the Square. On carting days he knew
that at intervals his father hurried from the shop to the
ree. For an hour he stood sentinel. Sandy the Fox was
again coming up the street by the horse's head, and
Gillespie appeared at the door, crossed the Square, and
accompanied Sandy into MacCalman's Lane to the ree.
Immediately the cart jolted round the Bank corner,
Eoghan slipped into the shop, scurried round the counter,
opened the till, and drew out a handful of coins. Stuffing
them into his pocket, he darted into the office and out
by the back door.
When gloaming fell he roused Brodie from his perusal
of the Glasgow Herald, and bought a bottle of whisky.
CHAPTER III
GILLESPIE had taken down his shutters precisely at
seven o'clock on the morning on which his boats had
been burned in the Harbour — earlier by an hour than his
usual time — and with partially frozen water washed the
large plate-glass windows, as he had done for sixteen
years. Scores of curious eyes were upon his methodical
movements. It was the day for the country van. He
went to the coal-ree, summoned the Fox, and helped him
to load the cart with sacks of flour and meal, and with
provisions, exactly as he had done last week. The Fox,
afraid to lift his eyes to Gillespie's face, scurried about
in silence, and at last gathered up the reins with the
feeling of a prisoner leaving jail. He breathed a larger
air as he took the west brae. He had felt that he was
on the crater of a dormant volcano. Gillespie had given
him final instructions in an even voice, advising him of
the amount of butter, eggs, and cheese he was to bring
back from the country. Then at the shop door, in the
face of the Square and of Harbour Street, he placidly
shook his apron free of the particles of flour. He was
waving a flag in the teeth of Brieston. The sight caused
Kyle, a rooted Calvinist, to shiver. To the Chemist it was
the flouting of Heaven by an unrepentant demon-soul.
As the day passed the usual events occurred. The
Ardmarkie mail-coach thundered down the brae at noon,
and Maclean and Watty Foster walked down the street
to Brodie's. The mail steamer from Glasgow arrived
up to Government time, and carried back intelligence
unofficial but weighty, to be sown along astonished ports
of call. The town in its afternoon languor stood in knots
at the Quay head, at the Barracks, at the hotel corners.
The Square alone was deserted. Stuart on that day was
to have sold doves in the temple; but four women only
came to the jumble sale. Brieston coughed discreetly
behind its hand, wondering how soon Gillespie would
take action and the dynamite explode. It was rumoured
that he had turned Campbell the policeman out of the
shop with a flea in his ear. The town was standing over
a loaded mine. Chrystal Logan said he could hear the
fuse spluttering.
No one was seen to enter Gillespie's shop that day.
"He has a face lik' the wrath o' Goad," some one had
said in the morning. Towards evening it was reported
that Gillespie had not turned a hair. The town, robbed
of a spectacle, was murmurous. Brieston thought Gillespie
was intimidated and hid his face.
"Let him cairry on the glory noo," boasted Red
Duncan openly. "He'll ken whether me or him has the
strongest back stays. I've got to windward o' him at
last; an' Ill keep my weather eye on him." Some said
Gillespie was resigned; others that he was leaving
Brieston; none saw in him a gaunt tree stripped by a
gale of all its branches, yet standing up again unflinchingly
to the ruthless sky.
On the morrow Gillespie made no sign that the
débacle had caused him to lose an hour's sleep, and
the Quay received a shock. The Fishery Officer walked
across from his office bareheaded, a telegram in his hand.
The Loch was full of herring; the Ardmarkie men with
new trawls were filling their boats. He had been to
Gillespie. There was a man of iron nerve. He was
going out in the Sudden Jerk to buy the Ardmarkie
herring. "It'll take a bigger flame than you men can
light for him to play the moth at. He says you've cut
your own throats. The one half o' ye have neither boats
nor gear."
That portion of the fleet — some thirty-five boats —
which had not been mortgaged to Gillespie, and which
had not perished in the fire, was hurriedly got ready
and put to sea. In the midst of the brown sails moving
down the Harbour could be seen the lean, cream-coloured
funnel of the Sudden Jerk.
The next day two boats came back full of herring.
Whether it was because the sea had been so niggard
for almost a year or not, the men could not tell; but
herring was not only plentiful — "Fair boiling in the
watter," said one of the crews — but of excellent quality;
large and firm. The Sudden Jerk had gone to Glasgow
loaded to the funnel, and Gillespie, unable to carry more,
had sent these two boats to Brieston with instructions for
Sandy the Fox to see that they were "roiled in saut an'
gutted." A list of the gutter's names was handed to the
Fox — the names of certain women who had pledged their
services to Gillespie in return for food during the winter
— the debt to be paid off at the rate of ninepence a barrel.
The men whose boats had been burned looked on with
hungry eye. The Loch beyond the Harbour mouth boiled
with fine herring; they had neither boats nor nets; and
Gillespie was in Glasgow. The town was empty in his
absence. Two crews were formed, which put to sea
with old drift-nets in two line boats. The rest of the men
stood at the "Shipping Box" with their hands in their
pockets. And the sun shone on the charred remains of
their fleet. As they looked in the revealing light a closed
carriage rolled up the north brae. They scarcely glanced
at it across the empty Harbour. It contained Dr. Maclean,
who sat opposite Queebec, beside whom was Campbell
the policeman. On Queebec's thin red wrists were a
pair of handcuffs. The other evening he had entered
Gillespie's shop and attempted to set it on fire, and later
attempted his life with a razor. Maclean was taking
Queebec to the asylum at Bannerie. On passing through
the Square a spasm of passion contorted Queebec's face;
he wished to get out and burn the shop. Maclean in some
way had become his enemy; he must get rid of Maclean.
A look of cunning came into his eyes as he leaned forward.
"Doctor," he whispered, beckoning, "come here; I've
something to tell ye." Maclean inclined his head, and
the next moment two hands were madly grappling about
his throat. The carriage rocked and swayed as the two
men fought, Queebec clinging on with a madman's
strength. Pat leapt from the dickey before the horses
had pulled up, and as he wrenched the door open saw his
master put up his knee and jab it violently into Queebec's
abdomen. The lunatic relaxed his grip and fell backwards
foaming. Maclean leapt on him and pinioned him down.
"Drive to the police station, Pat," he ordered. Thus
Queebec, his mission on earth accomplished, went to the
asylum in Bannerie with handcuffs on his wrists.
The fishermen on the Quay head, however, scarcely
noted the carriage, for they were watching the herring
gutters. There is nothing which gives to one ashore
such a profound impression of the riches of the sea as a
herring-gutting scene. The wings of angels hover upon
the silvery mass as one looks abroad over a field of fish
in many boats. Those beautiful fish, silk-shot with a
greenish-blue through the scales, are the strongest
hostages against penury. From the cold deep they
have come to brighten the hearth; fashioned in silver in
the dark, as diamonds in the bowels of the earth. The
burnishing of knives was a labour of love in the Back
Street. What a sight it was to see again the big fishing--
boats laced with scales and the shining pile in the Square.
The women sat on empty herring boxes by the pile, their
arms bared and dappled with blood. They worked in
pairs, one gutting, the other salting and packing in the
barrels. Every hour or so they exchanged duties, for it
is wearing on the back constantly to be stooping over a
barrel, and wearying to the wrist and fingers unceasingly
to be tearing out the guts of fish and jerking it on to the
red heap of offal. When the dusk came the work was
continued within the store, whose interior, lit with
torches, presented a weird spectacle. Beneath the glare
of the torches mingled with smoke, the gutters with
blood-stained hands sat around, their faces starting out
of the reek in the murky light and falling again into
shadow. The pile of herring smouldered in pools of dull
gold. There was a sense of happiness in the atmosphere.
The moving of the waters, for which they had so long
waited, had come, and tongues went as fast as knives.
What would the men do who had no boats? they had
been fools to burn them. The big guttings of former
days were recalled when the splendid fishing lured gutters
from Stornoway and Peterhead to Brieston. Old times
were restored; the old dead were resurrected; the aged
were seen as young.
"Many's the guttin' ye hae sang at noo, Flory;" and
as the torches flicker and the knives grow idle, and the
weary hands are at rest a moment, a sweet treble voice
sings the Scottish ballad:
"Last night there were four Maries,
To-night they'll be but three,"
and fifty women take up the haunting air, making it
well beyond the rafters and the roof to the night and
the stars. In that song the hungry days are ended, and
the sorrows of the sea.
Daily the gutting went on, and Gillespie moved briskly
through the town. The men without boats, eaten up
with mortification, watched the business at first with
rage, and then, as news came in of big fishings, with
despair. The carpenters would not risk the big undertaking
of building boats for bankrupts.
"Ye're weirin' your clothes oot against the "Shippin'
Box," boys, an' the Ardmarkie men mekin' a fortune,"
cried Gillespie, with the cheeriest voice in the world,
he passed to the gutting shed. "I'd seeven hunner boxes
o' fine big herrin' this week for Glesca."
It was Red Duncan who answered:
"We hevna a plank to float on, or a mesh to wet."
"Ay! boys," said Gillespie, "fire's no' a chancy
thing;" and that was the single reference which he
made to what had come to be known as the "Night of
the Big Burning."
He invited those who wished to fit out boats to meet
him that afternoon in his office at the shop — one man
to represent each crew. Every crew sent a representative.
Gillespie, with ledger open, reminded them of the mortgages
on the old boats. Some were bonded full value:
others three-fourths; others again one-half. Were the
men willing to let the bond lie? They were fools to go
idle with such a fishing; but he had no desire to press
them; he had sufficient on his hands, what with buying
herring, and gutting and provisioning the existing
Brieston fleet. He hated, however, to see the men idle
with such good prospects. Did they agree?
Fast enough — Red Duncan was the spokesman; but
they wanted to get to the fishing immediately. It would
take months to build a fleet. By that time the best of
the fishing would be over.
"Surely, Donnacaidh, you don't think I'm such
gomeril as a' that. I hae at this meenut a boat for every
wan that was burned."
The men's faces expressed their incredulity.
"I hae reinged everywhere, frae the Heids o' Ayr to
Stornoway, and bocht up a' the boats I could hear tell
o'. I hae them lyin' up at Greenack ready."
Incredulity now gave place to unbounded admiration,
and then to vague alarm. They became afraid of this man's
tenacity of purpose and his gigantic enterprise. They
were pawns in his stupendous game. "Of course," he
went on, "you boys needna tek' ower the boats; I'm
no' forcin' ye. I'll can get crews for them a' frae Kerry
an' Bannerie an' Ardmarkie; an', as you say, Donnacaidh,
the carpenters 'ill tek' months to beeld ye new boats.
An' whaur are ye to get the money? Lowrie 'ill no'
advance ye a ha'penny." Gillespie had made sure of
this.
"Noo, boys, are ye on, or are ye no'?" He spoke
briskly, rubbing his hands.
"There's noathin' else we can do; we're on oor beam
ends," muttered Red Duncan.
"Weel! weel! that's common sense at last. Noo, I'll
gie ye an account o' what the boats cost me." The name
of each boat was mentioned, was assigned to a crew, and
then her price shown, the receipt being displayed. The
first thing they would have to do would be to pay Gillespie
back the price of each boat. His capital had lain out
for a considerable time in the purchase of these boats.
Had they taken a bill on the bank to build a new fleet,
Lowrie would have charged them interest at five per cent.
He, Gillespie, would charge only four and a half per cent.
Till the principal and interest were paid he would look
on the boats as his own. Thereafter the old bond on
them given for provisions would remain, and on the
bond Gillespie would claim his share of the profits. The
boats would still remain his to the extent to which they
had been pledged by the bond — some few of them his
wholly; others to the extent of three-fourths; others
again to one-half.
"That's my proposeetion, boys; tak' it or leave it. If
ye don't agree, there's noathin' for it but to gang back
to the 'Shipping Box,' and watch the other Brieston men
mekin' a fortune. I'll easily mand to get crews oot o'
Kerry an' Bannerie;" his voice was insinuating, deprecating.
Wrath now mingled with their fear — wrath at
their own impotence, for they were tied hand and foot.
He had turned the flames of the lost fleet upon themselves.
They cursed the ravings of Queebec, but he had
found an asylum from their wrath; and blaspheming the
name of Lonend, asked what had moved that farmer to
mix himself up with the affairs of the fishermen. When
each man had signed, Gillespie instructed them to gather
their crews on Monday morning and go by luggage steamer
to Greenock, bring the fleet to Brieston, and get it provisioned.
He laughingly told the men as they trooped
out that they would require to furnish the boats with a
considerable amount of new gear, and of course trawl-nets.
They went away humbled.
"Thon bit bleeze is the best thing that ever happened
to Gillespa' Strang," he informed the canary, as he
tickled the bird with the point of a pen. He stood to
make a huge profit out of the fire. The women were
paying off their arrears at the gutting; he would get four
and a half per cent. on his capital; would rake in his
share money on the takings of the men; and there would
fall to be sold a considerable quantity of new gear.
But in the matter of gear Gillespie had over-estimated
human nature, and the indecency of some of the men
betrayed itself. Nets, sails, oars, water-casks, chains,
tackle, began to see the light from the obscurity of lofts,
outhouses, and from beneath beds. This enraged those
men who had been loyal to the conspiracy. All was to have
been burned. This did not prevent many, however,
from sneaking nets and gear out of the doomed boats
under cover of night. It was hellish, said the honest
men; they had been betrayed and overreached in their
own camp. Bitterness was gendered which caused
enmity between some of the men for life. A section took
up arms for Gillespie, and even turned informers, so that
Gillespie had the culprits under his thumb.
"I could clap ye in jyle the morn," he said to Red
Duncan.
"Ye can clap Lonen' along wi' me then," flung back
the fisherman.
"Ay! ay!" answered Gillespie softly; "I jaloosed
the win' blew oot o' that dirty airt."
The fire had strengthened Gillespie's hands all round,
and he was induced to believe in the justice of Heaven
visited upon the unrighteous. He made his counter a
pulpit, from which he preached softly of the wrath of
God upon the iniquitous, and sedulously attended church.
After a week he omitted his sanctimonious discourses,
being immersed body and soul in the glittering pursuit
of gain. Brieston stood in wholesome fear of him, though
they nagged at his name. One example will suffice.
Tamar Lusk, by reason of his position as a vendor of
fripperies, had a seat on the Parish Council.
"If some o' you boys were wi' me roond the green cloth"
— he was standing on the edge of his boot soles — "up
gyards an' at them: it's a' for the good o' the place I'm
aifter; but since Gillespie came on the Council" — Gillespie
was Poor Law Clerk — "ye'll no even get a bottle o' oatmeal
stout at the meetin'. It used to be a cheery place
wi' the bottle on the green cloth an' the crack goin' back
an' forrut. Now everything's that clean cut, there's no'
even dreepin'. It's no pleasure noo, but back-bitin' an'
business, an' business an' back-bitin'."
Tamar's deep-sea cap was rakishly askew, his left eye
closed, his right shining beneath a white eyebrow stiff
as pig-bristles. He beat time to his philippic with his
left foot.
"Ay! he came an' axed for my furniture for a wee
debt o' mine" — this was an old piracy of Gillespie's.
Tamar's thick neck swelled with rage; his face was
turkey-red, in midst of which his fiery little tongue
clapped — "Boys! I'd a noise wi' him. fin a sergeant
o' the Volunteers" — the left eye opened and closed; he
appeared to be sighting a monster gun — "ready for my
Keeng an' country any time. But no quarters wi' him.
He's a Rooshian. Shoved his backside to the door an'
axed for the furniture lik' a drink o' watter. An' it
didna gie him a red face. But get to windward o'
him. Doon yonder at the Quay it's fair sweemin' wi'
muck an' herrin'-guts. Ye canna steer wi' barrels an'
deevilment an' dirt. See if I don't speak to the Laird.
Heavens! boys! am I no' a Pairish Cooncillor? I fought
for 't, an' my rival had a heap o' votes. I got a noise
frae the Receiver o' Wrecks aboot the fish-guts. Of
course he'd a right to speak to me, me being on the
Board; but no' thon wy o' attackin' me lik' a pickpocket.
I told him gey smert who he belonged to, an' to go an'
compleen to Gillespie. They need the hems on them,
the hale jeeng-bang o' them."
"Is that me you're speakin' aboot, Tamar?" came the
well-known sibilant voice, as Gillespie came round the
corner of the "Shipping Box," cran basket in hand.
"Ay! an' I was just sayin' to the boys that the
Receiver o' Wrecks yocked on me yesterday in my
capaceety as Pairish Cooncillor aboot the herrin'-guts at
the Quay. You bate, Gillespie, I gied him his coffee.
You'd think us poor boys could catch herrin' withoot
guts to hear the wy he goes on."
"Just speak a word in his ear, Tamar," answered the
peacemaker; "that we're thrang cairtin' the guts ower the
Quay heid. It'll feed the stanelacs."
"It'll no' gie him that satisfaction, Gillespie" — the
eye closed down valiantly beneath the spear-serried
bristles — "he should be thankfu' to see the pickle guts.
It's no' every day there's a big fishin', an' he'll get his
own wheck on Setterday when the boys share."
"I hope, Tamar, the fishin's taen a turn for the better.
It's badly needit," answered Gillespie.
"Ay! ay! Gillespie," Tamar cried to the bulky retreating
figure. "I wish I saw ye up to the eyes in
herrin'-guts frae noo to Neerday."
Gillespie, walking towards the store, heard a roar of
laughter behind him.
"Tamar! Tamar!" the Bent Preen was saying,
"ye'll need to go back to the Volunteers an' learn to
face the enemy."
Tamar stared after Gillespie, and his head righted from
its valorous list.
"He's a crool man, thon; it's no' chancy comin' in his
raiverence; but he'll hear more o' his muck when I put
in my oar roond the green cloth. Just you wait."
"Keep your oar," said Big Finla', "for the next haul
at Barlaggan."
Thus Gillespie was hated and feared in secret; but
the salutary lesson of the "Big Burning" left him immune
from any further open attack. He thought himself
invincible, invulnerable.
CHAPTER IV
"NAE use peyin' a man when I hae a son for the work."
In this summary fashion Iain, Gillespie's eldest son, was
taken from the "Ghost" and made to share Eoghan's
room. He was a tall, spare lad of twenty or about,
with a dark complexion and a thin dark moustache.
His face in repose had a mournful look. He was inclined
to be taciturn, and would sit by the hour at the fireside
in the "Ghost" humming songs or playing upon the
flute. He was of a saving disposition — "a canny easygoin'
Scot" — it was said of him — "wha kens to keep
his mouth an' his neif shut." He evinced the keenest
interest in out-of-the-way characters, and with his dark
eyes lit with fun made the shrewdest observations upon
their doings. On these occasions he fell into sudden
unsophisticated laughter which, for all his parsimonious
disposition, betrayed a careless side to his nature. He
was sterlingly honest, had saved the bulk of the money
he had earned, and was ill-dressed. He had noticed
that poor people get little consideration in the world.
"The best freend is a pickle money o' your own, young
fella," he would say to Eoghan, raining affection out of
his dark eyes upon his thin-faced, elfin brother. But he
had none of the greed of his father who, unable now to
attend to his business ashore and to his herring buying,
put Iain aboard the Sudden Jerk. The son was already
skilled in the sea and very hardy; he endured fatigue and
danger without talking about it.
It was Saturday when Iain had rest from the Sudden
Jerk, and Eoghan had pleaded with him to go on a nutting
expedition. On the road at the head of West Loch
Brieston, they met the spey-wife, whose husband was a
tinsmith. She wore a shepherd tartan shawl and big
heavy boots, and in her left hand she carried a shepherd's
crook; on her right arm a bundle of shining jangling cans.
Round her neck she wore a long chain, composed of
the small silver coins of many nations. Iain laughingly
accosted her. "Fine day, old lady."
The spey-wife rubbed a rheumy substance from her
eyes and peered at Eoghan.
"What's your name, my bonny boy?"
"Eoghan Strang."
She put out a hooked skinny forefinger.
"Ay! ye hae the spunk o' the Logans. I can tell it
by your e'e. It's a peety o' the Strangs."
"A peety, old lot?" Iain asked, good-humouredly.
"Ay! while there's water to droon, or fire to burn,
or poison to mak' an' end, a Strang 'ill no' die easy in
bed."
Iain's fine white teeth flashed beneath his moustache
as he burst out laughing.
"Well, that's ripe, old party."
The spey-wife sighed and looked at the younger
brother.
"One o' ye 'ill mind my words when ye're liftin' the
other oot o' the water." She mouthed at Eoghan,
jingled her chain of foreign coins, and added, "We can
nane o' us help but dree oor weird," and tramped
heavily up the road towards Brieston, her tin cans
jangling loudly on the still morning air.
The brothers walked on for a little in silence. Eoghan
shivered as he spoke.
"The blatter o' her cans made me think o' the sign at
the 'Ghost' on windy nights."
"She's a queer old card; Iain's eyes were full of
merriment.
It was dusk as they came out of the hazel wood with
their pillow-slips full of nuts and, too hungry and tired
for conversation, trudged on in silence. When they came
to the head of the brae beneath the church, Eoghan
stopped in his walk to shift his pillow-slip from one
shoulder to the other.
"Iain, I've a queer feelin' that the spey-wife is right.
It came to me in the wood, and I got frightened. The wood
was full o' eyes watchin' me."
Iain's face was long and mournful.
"You're needin' your tea, young fella," he answered;
you're tired; gie me your pillow-slip." Iain's face
remained mournful as he walked down the brae, and he
began to whistle softly with his mouth very wide, and
his eyes fixed ahead on the Harbour. Eoghan felt a
weary weight of inexpressible sorrow at the sight of his
brother's face, and was so fatigued and miserable that
he went down the brae in a little blind trot. As he pushed
open the front door at the head of the stairs he heard
his mother in the kitchen singing plaintively a ballad
of old-time sorrow in the West Countree. This intensified
his melancholy. The kitchen was gloomy, for the wick
of the lamp was smoking. As was usual on Saturdays
tea was late. He felt faint, and the droning of his mother
irritated him.
"I wish, mother," he said irascibly, "you would
stop that singin' an' get the tea; I'm hungry."
"Janet's away down to the shop for butter," she
answered; "she'll be back in a minute" — she smiled at
him dreamily. "I haven't felt so well for ages. I took a
wee drop out of the bottle you gave me. What would I
do without you and Margaret? You're the only friends I
have." She passed her left hand slowly across her
forehead and pushed her fingers among her hair.
"Is Mr. Campion teaching you Latin yet?" she asked.
He was surprised at the question, because she rarely
referred to his work at school.
"What makes you ask, mother?"
"He said you were going to the University."
"Who? Mr. Campion?"
She made no answer. Cheeks on her hands and elbows
on her knees, she gazed into the fire.
"Where did you see Mr. Campion, mother?" His
decisive loud tone was meant to summon her attention,
for Topsail's heavy foot was on the stair. "Where?"
"I see him sometimes when I go to Lonend." She
spoke falteringly with a flushed face.
Topsail entered with a loaf in one hand and some butter
on a plate in the other. "Iain's awa' doon to the
Ghost' for his tea," she announced.
That night Eoghan lay in bed reading. A storm,
which had arisen at nightfall, was blowing in fierce gusts.
The scurry of the rain on the window was like the fingers
of wild wandering things of the night trying to get in
from the wind, which sounded like a gigantic steel saw
ripping up the dark. The hoarse sea plunged upon the
Harbour wall like a monstrous blind thing in pain seeking
rest. "What a night! it frightens me. I wish Iain
hadn't gone to the Ghost,'" he thought. His active
brain gave him no respite. "The air is full of flying
things. I wonder what men are doing out at sea
to-night."
Was that the sneck of the outside door? He listened
intently. Somebody was groping to lift it from the
outside. It was of peculiar construction. In the wood
of the door was cut out a circular hole, into which a
finger when pushed came in contact with an iron circular
disc, which lifted the sneck within. "It's lain come
home to sleep after all," he thought, with a sense of
relief. Presently he heard his father in his stocking
soles pad, padding along the passage from the kitchen.
"Whaur hae ye been straivigin' to this time o' the
nicht?"
"It's my mother;" the thought shot through him
with sudden, unaccountable fear.
"Am I to be keepin' the lamp burnin' a' nicht for
ye? If ye'd another man it's kicked oot ye'd be."
Eoghan jumped up to a sitting posture in bed, as a
skirl of laughter broke on his ear — shrill, defiant, inane
laughter. "But ye're the angry man, Gillespie; it's no'
that often I take a jaunt."
"Come in wi' ye!" he heard his father snarl. The
bed shook beneath Eoghan with his agitation. His
heart was beating violently against his ribs. A step
stumbled in the passage; his father's footfall shuffled
past, soft as an animal's; there was a dull sound of a
door being shut, followed by silence. He breathed
easier now. Where could she have been so late on such
a night? She must be soaked to the skin. His alert
ear was listening for what was beyond the closed doors.
Vague soft voices purred in the distance as if caressing
each other; a mouse scuttled behind the wall, and once
more there was silence, through which he heard the
tick! tack! tick! tack! of the death-watch, like a
small, invincible voice riding the storm. Suddenly there
was a crash somewhere in the kitchen. Again he sat
bolt upright. The kitchen door opened, and in the
draught from the outside stair it snapped to with at
whip-like crack that echoed through the house. "What
is going on? what is going on?" The beating of his heart
was stifling him, and he crouched forward on his knees
Softly, as if a ghost were seeking entrance, his own door
was pushed open; slowly, inch by inch, and at every
inch a drop of blood seemed to ooze from his heart.
His eyes dilated with fear when his mother appeared in
the doorway in a white nightdress open at the neck,
her long black hair tumbled on her shoulders. Her
breathing was rapid, and her eyes, brilliant as with
fever, had a hard, bovine stare. There were brick-red
patches on her cheek-bones. In her right hand she
held a heavy lamp by a long, slender pillar. The sight
of her hectic, disordered appearance made Eoghan feel
faint. Her eyes, stupidly searching round the room, fell
on the crouching form of her son.
"Eoghan! Eoghan! will ye no' take me into bed?"
The words were the frightened wail of a child, and
pierced his heart. The fainting seizure passed from him;
he felt himself endued with marvellous strength, and
leapt from the bed. She was swaying like a tree in a
gale; her face full of profound sorrow. The swaying
ceased, and the body began to sag backwards and forwards.
The heavy lamp took a list in her hand, and
the funnel smoked. He jumped forward and caught
the pillar.
"Mother," he cried, "ye'll put the house on fire."
They looked at each other in silence. All at once he
trembled, and a horrified look came into his face as the
dreadful truth flashed upon him. Afraid that the lamp
which he held in his shaking hand would fall, he staggered
to the dressing-table where a candle was burning,
and with his two hands placed down the lamp. She
followed him, sobbing.
"Let me in, Eoghan; your father has put me out of
his bed." With arms rigid by her sides she swayed,
dry sobs shaking her body, and her tearless eyes were
drenched with a piteous look.
"You'll catch your death of cold standing there," he
moaned.
"Little does he heed: he put me out of bed." She
lurched forward and gripped the iron poster; took another
step, her arms out before her as if she were blind. He
was afraid she was about to fall, and jumping forward
caught her arm. She lurched heavily against him, so
that it took all his strength to support her. The tears
began to well up from what was choking him. He slipped
his arm round her waist.
"Is he no' the terrible man, puttin' me out o' bed
… out o' bed in the deid o' night?" she murmured
wearily. "'I wish you were deid an' in your grave,' he
said. What did he say that for? I was only in Margaret's.
He cheated her out o' the farm … I canna mind now
… I'm light-headed, Eoghan … I cried all evening
wi' a pain in my head … an' when I told him what
Marget said he tried to choke me … God forgive
him …."
"Lie down, mother, lie down;" his voice was hoarse
with anguish. He put his two arms about her; but his
left hand touched her breast, and he hastily withdrew
it, as if it had been burned. He placed her sitting on
the bed, and holding her round the shoulders with one
arm, flung back the bed-clothes with the other. Her
hot breath, sour with the fumes of alcohol, rose up in
his face. She fell back sideways across the pillows,
moaning as if in pain. Solid walls of darkness surged
up before him; the room was unaccountably stifling.
He raged with anger against his father, who no doubt
was asleep as if nothing had happened. He would
have turned her out like a piece of cork into the storm.
With face averted he gathered his arm beneath her knees,
slung her feet into the bed, pulled up the clothes and
wrapped her in. A ferment of horror was working in
his brain. His soul was lacerated as with thorns. He
envied his father's placidity, his brother's repose. "We
are unsheltered, unsheltered, she and I" — thought like
fire devoured his brain.
"I thought when we got married he would take me to
London to see the sights …" — her shining eyes were
fixed upwards — "the crown jewels … when I was in
school in Edinburgh some one told me about them …
I canna mind her name … He has plenty of money
… he never took me anywhere … he kept me slavin'
on the farm … he put me … put … out o' bed;"
the voice trailed away to a whisper; the head fell slackly
to the side; she began to snore heavily. As Eoghan
watched her, Topsail Janet crept down from the Coffin
and came candle in hand to the door. A spasm of rage
contorted Eoghan's features. He glared at Topsail
wolfishly, his pale face betraying the intensest hatred.
"Be off!" he hissed; "be off, you hag; my mother is ill."
He took a threatening step toward her.
"I'll tak' her up the stair to my bed," pleaded Topsail,
big-eyed, open-mouthed.
With a savage look he picked up the book he had
been reading and hurled it straight at Topsail. It took
her between the eyes. Too late she put up her hands in
defence. With a bound he followed the book and slammed
the door in her face.
The sweat oozed in beads upon his forehead as a
new thought seized him and made him cold and pale
as a corpse. Had any one seen her coming home? We
shall stand now in the harlotry of the town's mind. He
groaned, and began pacing up and down the room, tortured
by his ignorance and his impotence. Suddenly he
stopped and, folding his arms, gazed down at her.
"Wrecked … wrecked … among the breakers," he
muttered.
"Let me in, laddie, let me in," a voice whined at the
door. Stealthily he went to the door, jerked it open,
and saw a face looming out of the darkness, with blood
trickling from one of the eyes like tears.
"Be off, I tell you, or I'll murder you," he groaned
out, and again slammed the door in the face of a wounded
angel.
He returned to the bed and stood gazing down at his
mother. Her breathing was gentler, more regular, and
the hectic flush had crept over her cheeks. A sense of
her beauty suddenly struck him. He recalled her as he
had seen her years ago. The picture was imprinted
vividly on his memory. She wore a linen collar, and
at a looking-glass, tress by tress, was combing out her
long hair. In imagination he had fancied her like Mary
Queen of Scots. Oh, that he could arm the stars or
fire the town to safeguard her now from prying eyes
and slanderous tongues! Since that time he had not
seen her long black hair on her shoulders. He was
amazed at the beauty of her face as he pored upon her.
"The belle o' the ball! the belle o' the ball!" — the
phrase rang through his brain. The wildest thoughts
chased each other through his mind. "The eye of some
curse has searched out the reins of our house." His
mother's intelligence, goodness, generosity, tenderness,
where were they gone? "I am sorry for her;" and the
mental whips lashed him. "Where does that sorrow go?
Does it escape me like an unfulfilled wish, and melt
away in the air? It does not help her. It did not help
Iain to-day. What is the use of it all? God" — he
cried aloud — "I am going mad!" He walked to the
mirror and gazed at his blanched face, staring into his
eyes as if to probe his very soul. He imagined that
another face, grey with dry sweat, was looking back at
him fixedly from the glass. It made him recoil, for in
another minute he felt this face would make him judge
her. He went back to the bed and gazed upon the face
there, which in sleep had assumed an expression of utter
weariness. It assailed him with great compassion. "She
is the author of this divine pity, and I am the author of
her wretchedness; I stole to give her the whisky." And
then he thought fiercely of his father. "He is the cause.
Is there justice anywhere existing on earth?" Being
young he was not sure. "Oh, what sorrow! what sorrow
is in that face! and Iain's face — it looked so woeful
to-day with the bewildered mouth hanging open." He
began walking to and fro in the room, a thousand miseries
besieging his mind; then ceased abruptly in his walk, and
stood with limp hanging arms, a prey to despair. "Does
God permit him to live to torture her?" and the ghastly
thought came to him — "P'raps there is no God." His
face grew hard; his eyes gleamed like a madman's. "If
not, I cannot permit him to live;" but the next moment
his sorrow-smitten heart rose up and condemned the
thought of his tortured brain. "Yes! Yes! He lives.
Great God! what am I to do?" He looked down at
her, apostrophising her: "You are one of the world's
suffering creatures." He saw light and eagerly grasped
"'God looks not on your sin but on your suffering.'
How does it go? how does it go?" He strove desperately
to recall the words — "'Neither do I condemn thee; go
and sin no more.'" Sin no more; and if to-morrow, and
to-morrow, and to-morrow she sinned, what must he do?
"It is impossible. Can she be fond of vice? Is she
debauched? It cannot be. She is not a low woman
without education." This mental excitation maddened
him. "If so, better for her and me to be drowned." He
grew cold with a great horror, remembering the words
of the spey-wife. "It's me … it's me she meant."
His pale, thin face was lit up with an unearthly light;
the bluish-grey eyes were on fire. "Shame or the sea —
it is the fate of our house — a grave in the sea." His
breast heaved and fell rapidly with the stress of emotion,
His brain began to swim in a vortex. A gloomy look
came into his face. He was seized with vertigo. The
light of the lamp began slowly to become blurred. He
looked about for water, wetting his parched lips with
his tongue. The cold made him shiver, and falling on
his knees beside the bed, he buried his face in his hands,
and remained prostrate before his broken altar. He
arose muttering, "He is a vampire; I could kill him
now in bed" — and going to the door, opened it. Without,
with her back to the wall, sat Topsail Janet, her head
sunk forward on her breast. He shook her by the
shoulder.
"Wake up," he said, "and go and take care of my
mother." He passed wearily up the narrow wooden
stair to the Coffin and fell heavily into Topsail's bed.
CHAPTER V
A SEA-GRAVE for the house of Strang, or poison, or
fire — that was what the witch said. This was his last
thought as he fell into a fevered sleep and wandered
into a horror of dreams. The spey-wife had manacled
his wrists with a chain of foreign coins, and led him to
the breast-wall over a sea black as ink, in which there
were little lights as of sparks from the swords of men
fighting in the dark. At first he feared the sea was on
fire, and that he had made the discovery. It would
blaze up ruddy as blood upon the windows of Brieston
as once he had seen it when the boats in the Harbour
were on fire. The fishermen were laughing and talking
at the corners. How could they jest on the hem of a
volcanic lake? Their boats would go up again in a blaze
and the flames lick up the town. He stared fascinated:
then wanted to run home and save his mother by escaping
to the hills. But she would smile and tell him he was a
foolish boy. "Mother, mother, it's on fire! it will
set the land on fire! we'll be burned!" but he could not
see his mother's face. Then he learned that the fire did
not leave the sea. He tempted it, gathering up stones in
his manacled hands and casting them into the water.
At each splash a cascade of green flame darted up and
paled on the dark waters. A new fear assailed him —
this burning sea was waiting for him. Some night it
would gather him into the heart of its fire and he would
be no more. His hands trembled so much that the chain
of coins rang out like the shaken bridles of horses. He
glanced over his shoulder for the comfort of the lights
of the town and encountered the baleful eyes of the
witch. The wind began to moan in the rigging of the
boats and made the sea rise in waves of multitudinous
red. He was fascinated and crept down the slip, drawn
by an evil magic he could not resist. Why were the
lamps of the town unlit, and the big green and red bottles
in the chemist's shop not shining? Little dark town, you
will break my heart; the wild eyes of fire are watching,
watching your forlorn sea-front, and will smother me in
a foam of flame. Those restless eyes were slanting
like rain; leaping elfinly, sparkling blue like clicking
swords; shining like the eyes of tigers in the night;
beady as snakes coiling all around the sea-wall. They
were strangling infants. Gluck! Gluck! how the
children were sobbing with fear! Some night they will
strangle him too; some night when he is sobbing like
that, and the water is muttering and moaning, and the
boats are twisting about, and the beaches are scraped
as with the hoofs of horses, and the slates are rattling
like pebbles on the roof.
How the little town huddles back dripping and lonely
and dark! How dismal the houses are, all run together
in one dark mass in the gloom! How still they are, like
a man whose heart stops beating when a serpent is about
to strike at him.
The wind began to scream in the cordage of the boats,
and the sign at the "Ghost" to rattle like a kettle-drum.
The water leapt at his feet and fell in chains of flame.
He was wet with red brine. The sullen roar of the wind
went over the roofs, and all the madness in the heart
of the sea rose in a snarl of wind. Spindrift drenched
him; the fangs of wild beasts gaped upon him, breathing
fire. He broke away in terror, stumbled up the slip,
and saw the town in front of him black and silent as
the graveyard. The eyes of the spey-witch drove his
face again to the sea, and he saw all the boats vanish away
through the dark gale like ghosts beneath a sky ringing
as with cymbals. He screamed at the spey-wife, gnashed
his teeth upon her and began to run. He knew why
he was running — it was to make the most of the murky
twilight which the sea-fires cast upon the air. The stars,
he knew, would not come out. They fought, choking
in an inky sea above. Faster and faster he ran through
Harbour Street, past the Quay, his heart hammering
on his ribs. He swerved in a blind little trot to the
"Ghost," and heard its mournful sign. It was all unlit
and its door closed. Sobbing, he trotted on. What a
piteous little bleat his feet made on the road as he came
down to its end where the old Crimea guns stare out to
sea! A white sheet of flame was upon the Loch, as if
a giant hand were raining fire mingled with snow. Fan--
wise it spread, to vanish in chains of fire into smoky mist.
The strangled stars of heaven dropped in great clots of
blood, and to his horror he saw the falling stars burst
in the midst of the chains of fire and devour the sea,
licking it up in smokeless heat. All the cold dead, all
the friendless who had found in the salt water their
ultimate refuge — some with babies in their arms — were
returning through the shallowing gulfs like homing birds
to the limits of the land, their weary eyes and sorrow--
laden faces upturned piteously in hope of rest from the
tossing deep. Iain led the way, his mouth pitifully open
and wet with salt. The mangled breasts of women were
hidden with their hair, and they, remembering the old,
happy years on land, held up their babes in tears, arising
through the thinning foam pale as snow, cold as dew;
but with lips so pure from their long cleansing sepulchre
that naught might come from them but beseechings
and blessings and holy songs. He understood now the
old anguish-note and keening of the sea. It had been
loaded with all their pain and grief, their weariness of
death and the fathomless sighs of those outcasts from
light and the mould — a vast, pale army who have lain
unburied and sleepless, stricken with dreams of hearth
and cot and home. In the cold fountains of the bitter
sea their faces have been so marred with scalding tears
that the brine of the oceans cannot cleanse the furrows
of their grief. Up from the glens and hollows where the
sea was all burned they trooped, and the noise of their
feet was as the rushing of many waters through the skies,
and their eyelids glowed upon the land with hunger.
With eager feet they passed on through the narrow
mouth of the steep place of the ocean-bed, and climbed
up the cliffs to the shore. He could not help them for
his manacled hands; but they needed no help. He
followed them up the road and saw them go as dark,
fluttering shadows on the windy, vacant streets. A
charred town stood around wrecked by the stars. The
doors were desolate, the lintels fallen, the roofs broken;
and this was a misery above all the miseries which they
had suffered in the sea; and such a wailing broke forth as
made the darkness quiver like a curtain, and the fire--
blackened walls rock and fling the echoes shrilling into
the hollows of the dried-up sea, where they rumbled
through the gorges and mingled with the dry whistle
of the wind in the eye-sockets of the skulls of murderers
who would never, never rise. He heard the soft passage
of the resurrected as they prowled, weeping. Full of the
memory of things of old, they touched the empty doorways
and charred walls as if with healing fingers; and
ever their muffled cry went hollow through the gloom.
At this unassuaged grief came one stately in white, with
inviolable eyes that had looked upon Christ in pure love.
"Come," she cried; "you have suffered for your children's
sake or for mother or sister or brother. Christ's compassion
knows and His love understands all. He will
pardon those who have loved much. He will forgive
Morag Strang too. He knows her to be gentle and
tender and to have suffered. You were all worthy that
He should die for you. His kingdom is prepared at
the end of the world and He has raised you from the
sea." And as the Magdalene spoke all their unlit life
flamed again in their parched veins. She stooped and
touched each one gently as she passed, naming a name
to each of olden, secret love that moved them deeply —
the name of their dreams, the name which had haunted
and tortured them with its fragrance in the hold of
the deep. She moved among them, a bridal woman of
joy, with her evangel. And then she commanded that
each return to the bed of the vanished sea and take
therefrom the mangled bodies of dissolute men, of
murderers and suicides and harlots, and bring them to
rest in the graves of those by whom they were beloved,
the son by the mother, the wife by the husband. In the
splendour of her face they turned back, moving slowly,
unwilling to leave her glorious eyes. They moved like
a sightless army down the silent streets to the end of
the road, where he came and sat again, and saw them go
down into the glens and hollows of the bowels of the
earth, gleaning the grey bones of the maimed, and taking
them up to the red earth in the west. There flowers
sprang up, tall, pale lilies, Madonna-wise, with a new
tender light which filled the world. As the Magdalene
went by she touched him on the shoulder and said to
him, with a face so piteous that it quenched the shining
of its glory: "Your hands are bound; you are no longer
free. Sorrow and madness will come upon you for one
that shall be a sinner too, and we shall gather up your
broken body." She bowed her head as to Fate, and he
felt her tears fall upon his upturned face. He held up
his chained wrists to her. "It is not for me to unbind
you," and she passed away as a shadow upon the wall
of gloom. Mournfully he sat gazing into the ravine
where the ocean waters had flowed, and saw a woman,
the last of the pale army, come up over the rocks with
her eyes intent upon the derelict walls of the "Ghost."
The face was full of inexpressible sorrow; her eyes were
deep wells of pain. It was his mother, tottering beneath
a dead body which she had rescued from the bed of the
sea. As she came upon the road with the body gathered
up in her arms he saw that its face was Iain's.
"Mother! mother!" he screamed, leaping towards
her.
He found himself in the midst of Topsail Janet's room.
His knees gave way and he sank down upon the floor.
The horror of the dream mingled with that of the hours
he had spent with his mother rushed upon him, intensified
by the cold, silent, impassioned dawn.
CHAPTER VI
MR. COLIN KENNEDY, A.M., the parochial schoolmaster,
one of the last of his race, was shrunken, tottering,
white-haired, with the eyes of an aged man, dim and
waiting. In the school-house set in a garden of trees
he was engaged upon A Book of the Dead, in which no
names were to appear. That was matter for history
proper, biography or autobiography. It would be an
epic of the obscure dead, whose faded hands he saw
upon the living, whose ghosts haunted all the centuries,
whose feet guided us, and the eloquence of whose dust
blossomed anew upon our lips. This eternal alchemy of
the vanished wrought anew in the workshop of the world.
He saw in procession, as well as Cæsar and Hannibal,
Plato and Demosthenes, Sophocles and Virgil, Paul
and Mahomet, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci,
Shakespeare and Beethoven, a phantasmal crowd — some
scanning the stars, some pounding in a mortar, some
telling their wounds, others peering at the compass on
pitch-black nights; others, again, the mistresses of kings,
dancing in palaces — men and women, fierce and tender,
brooding and plotting, mangled and torn; and over
all the wind of the Great Spirit whirling the chaff into
chaos, and leaving the grain behind to spring up anew
in the living generations. He had finished Chapter V,
"The Fortuitous in Life," and was begun on Chapter
VI, "The Note on Destiny — a Hidden Factor." He
saw the unknown human legions rise up on the earth
and sink again into her breast. "What dust! what
multitudinous dust!" he would murmur; and the
mournful tenure of life, its indefinable yearning, its
fierce ambitions, its baulked endeavours, would rise up
before him like a hill of sorrow, and the vague flight
of the clouds of mortality would sweep before his eyes,
drifting into the undiscoverable leagues of eternal silence.
In the peace of his garden beneath the stars he would
gaze down on the nestling town, its grey huddle of roofs
and the shadow-fleet all enfolded beneath the wings of
the dusk; and the voices and rumour of men would
come up in his ears like small shot peppering something
brittle. He imagined the people beneath projected on
the face of the sky as if from a gigantic magic-lantern.
The figures capered grotesquely upon the clouds, their
antic gestures inspired and controlled by some passionless
conjurer. "Umbra sumus," he would murmur sadly,
"my book will never be finished;" and the relentless
clock, the unerring pilot of Time, would solemnly boom
out on the hill that another hour had passed away into
eternity.
He was of that sort of men who have a look of home
in their faces; from whom Eoghan in the depth of his
distress sought comfort and advice. Eoghan told him
all, including what was the innermost fear of his being:
"I can't bear it, Mr. Kennedy; the whispers of the town
will stab me; their eyes will burn me; they will cough
at me behind their hands as I go by."
The schoolmaster made no sign that he disapproved
this blatant egoism of youth, or was horrified by its
moral cowardice.
"It takes one half of our life," he said, "to know
how to live the other half. You have yet to learn.
You are too imaginative, too highly-strung" — he smiled
gently; "too — thin-skinned. Those who were great were
undeterred" — he lapsed into dreams of his book — "they
held far-off communion with the goal, and let the gnats
sting them. They did not imagine the slander of others.
Ignore the scoff and the jeer. Do not writhe like a
trampled worm. Watch over her tenderly; guard her
gently; lead her by love. Cowards stand around and
scoff; but love is at the foot of the Cross, watching in
silence. Do not rage or blaspheme. In suffering silence
we best come to our haven. The birds of evening do
not sing when flying to their nests. This is Sunday.
Go to-day in silence to God and pray to Him. You
know that when scholars exhaust their learning the poor
man turns to the Bible." He cast a sorrowful glance
at Eoghan, as if reading his vacillating character.
"I can't heal myself with such philosophy," cried
Eoghan, "when I walk through the streets to-morrow."
"Do not carry such thoughts of shame with you.
Brooding increases misery with compound interest. Put
it in the fire and burn it. It is smoke."
"It is I who burn — all last night."
"You are stricken" — he laid his thin, shaky hand on
Eoghan's shoulder — "and being young you are in despair.
You will not believe if I tell you that suffering is good.
We are all torches lit to that wind; at least the best of
us. Look at Marshall the baker. He never paid a fee
to Maclean all his life; he's seventy, and rich as a Jew.
His daughters are well married and bearing healthy
children. His sons have good positions. I taught them
all. They were sly and some of them rogues; but they
flourish" — the old man spread out his fine, fragile hands
as if blessing him — "Eoghan, my son, Marshall is to
be pitied. God is letting him drift."
"Maybe," answered Eoghan, not daring to gaze at
the visionary face of the old man; "but my wound is
raw."
He touched Eoghan delicately on the shoulder, stooping
towards him. "Though you were in many ways a clever
scholar I caned you." He smiled fondly at Eoghan. "It
was fine to thrash you because you were clever. The
cane was a trowel. I was laying manhood on you at
every stroke. This sorrow of yours is the first touch of
God's trowel" — he peered at Eoghan's face — "if you
have not brought this trouble on yourself. Many a
cross is a cross of folly." The words appeared to rise
up from a deep well of sorrow. "If the trouble is not
of your own making, fear nothing. The human heart
is proof against all. When the worst comes to the worst
the soul sits within at the storm-centre looking out in
profound calm. We fear life too much. Come," he
added in a brisker tone, "together we'll go to church
for knowledge and wisdom. There are the bells" — and
seeing the hesitant look on Eoghan's face — "It is Maurice
from Ardmarkie who is preaching to-day. He is a good
man. You are tired, my son," he ended with infinite
tact; "come and rest in the house of God."
"I never go to church; I don't see the use of it."
"Perhaps you will to-day. Religion is never an
ecstasy, a hope, or a promise to those whose lives run
smoothly."
Reluctantly and shamefacedly Eoghan accompanied
him down the garden path, dreading the encounter with
the church-goers. Harbour Street was populous with
men and women in black. The world in that hour
seemed to have no poor, no sick, no afflicted. The old
folk wore those indefatigable clothes which would never
be replaced. On the brae they met Maclean, who shook
hands with the schoolmaster and nodded to Eoghan.
"For church, doctor?" asked Mr. Kennedy.
"Ay! the last shot in the locker."
Eoghan was startled. Did Maclean know anything?
What did he mean by referring to church as the last
resort? The blood rushed to his head; his knees began to
tremble. He stole a glance at the doctor; but he was
looking unconcernedly ahead as he talked to Mr. Kennedy.
"Maurice is a pious man and a good preacher. I hope
he left a dram for Stuart in Ardmarkie Manse." His
deep, hearty laugh rang with exquisite comfort to Eoghan's
heart. If the doctor knew anything he would not have
spoken about a dram in that careless fashion. Eoghan
entered the church with a sense of relief.
He was startled when the preacher gave out the text.
His subject was the Magdalene. "'Seest thou this
woman?' This poor pariah," the preacher went on,
"was nameless. Haunting the nests of vice and
walking the mean streets of Jerusalem, would she desire
a name? Was not her name reft from her, as convicts
to-day have their names taken from them and are given
a number instead? But once pardoned she will forsake
her old haunts, she will establish that which is dear to
every woman's heart, a home, and take her name again,
the name of childhood, which came blowing its fragrance
and its innocence across the weary years." The preacher's
earnest voice, in which was a hint of tears, seemed to
Eoghan to be sobbing through the building. He sat
spell-bound. "The Pharisees and wolves who had
preyed upon her would sneer now, and hint and whisper"
— Eoghan felt as if a cord were being tightened about his
heart, and breathed with difficulty — "but repentant
sorrow is proof against contumely. The storms of life
and its passion have broken her, and only one thing
on earth can mend her. The white flower of chivalry
will not strike a fallen one. Mercy sees only the suffering
heart, and mercy makes self-righteousness blush for itself.
Ah, the nameless fragrance of that mercy! She dares
wipe His feet, dares let herself dwell on the thought of
His love. She has found her haven from the ruthlessness
of the world. A memory is left to her that will never
perish, that will never recur to her without evoking
scorching tears. This woman makes us know what
unabashed faith is, what is the love that knows neither
shame, suspicion, nor fear." Eoghan half rose to his
feet, his eyes riveted on the transfigured face of the
preacher. A hand gently drew him back. "In her we
see the tenderness and devotion that can transform a
woman who has returned from the doors of hell to the
gates of heaven. In her we see the Man of Sorrows
both as the Star and the Haven, the giver of noble
thoughts, the gladness of the future, the restorer of what
is broken, the endower of the heart with fortitude to
rise after defeat and wear out the most relentless foe.
One hour with Him wipes out all — past sorrows, past
brooding, past despair. These are now so many bonds
by which the soul is tied to its Redeemer." Eoghan
thought the burning eyes of the preacher were riveted
on his face. "The nails of your cross He plucks out, and
they are driven into His own hands and feet." A mist
swam before Eoghan's face; the blood was drumming
in his ears. He had lost some of the golden words from
the pulpit. "If you cannot help such, leave them alone
at least. Don't play the part of the Pharisee with your
jibes and your jeers …. Once she was nameless. The
angels now know her name, the new name by which her
holy love was called in that fearless day when, penetrating
to the home of the Pharisee, she, with the hair of her head,
dried her own scalding tears, which had fallen upon those
feet soon to be doomed to the nails by those who were
her own tormenters."
A deep silence bound the congregation as the preacher
ended. For a moment Eoghan felt an insane desire to
burst into laughter. His mouth and jaws were working
convulsively in an effort to repress the welling sobs.
"Let us pray" — clear like a bell the words rang out.
Eoghan dropped down on his knees, the only kneeling
figure in the church, and buried his head in his arms.
"Thou who watchest over the fall of a sparrow and
numberest the hairs of our head art the unceasing guardian
of the children of men. Thou hast given us the highest
pledge possible of Thy love in the death of Jesus Christ.
Wilt Thou not along with Him freely give unto us all
things? This, O God of Mercy, is our simple faith.
We need this trust. We have but a brief day, lightened
a little by happiness, broken by grief, burdened with
care, soiled by sin. We are but shadows upon the background
of eternity. Children we are, groping and stumbling
till our day decline and wearily we seek our rest. Shine
upon our vicissitudes, O Thou infinite strength; break,
break upon our hazardous career, O Thou immortal
light. When a deeper yearning falls upon us for the good,
the true, the lovely, the things of excellent report, let
naught of mischance or evil quench the God within us
seeking out the God that is Thee. And when all is done
— a little well, perhaps, by Thy grace, and much that is
feeble, wayward, and ill — may we also, leaning upon Thy
compassion which knows, Thy love which understands
all, be brave to say, 'Lord, Thou knowest all things;
Thou knowest that I love Thee, O Jesus Christ, my
Lord.'"
Involuntarily the compelling Amen rang out on
Eoghan's lips. Maclean glanced at him, and began
tugging fiercely at his moustache. Eoghan rose off his
knees, chastened, uplifted, redeemed. The wings of the
cherubim were adrift in the church.
"A humane prayer," Maclean whispered, staring at
the minister. With a swelling heart of gratitude Eoghan
also looked at the man, who somehow he felt had left
him in the hollow of God's hand. The preacher announced
the hundred and third psalm, and slowly read through
the verses to be sung.
"'He will not chide continually.'" The words lingered
charged with a spirit of redemption. They began
singing:
"Such pity as a father hath
Unto his children dear."
The doctor was singing in a tuneless, rasping voice —
singing as if all his soul were coming up into his mouth,
and all the people with mighty fervency. "Kilmarnock"
rolled and swelled in waves of triumphant sound. Angel
were ascending and descending on a ladder of light.
"They are grasping the hem of Christ's garment. God
is here! God is here!" Eoghan wanted to cry it aloud:
"Like pity shows the Lord to such."
His bosom was heaving and falling with emotion; he
could sing no more for choking sobs; the tears freely
ran down his cheeks.
He walked down the street without fear or a sense of
shame. At the foot of the brae Maclean abruptly
addressed Mr. Kennedy:
"Damn it, Kennedy, Maurice has done me good the
day. I'll ask the Laird to send him a brace of pheasants."
"Come and see me to-night, Eoghan," said Mr
Kennedy.
"Thank you, sir;" they shook hands — rather lingeringly
Maclean thought — and the two men watched him
cross the Square.
"We'll make the lad a minister," said Maclean.
The schoolmaster gave him no answer.
In the presence of his father Eoghan dared not ask
Topsail Janet for news of his mother, who was not at
dinner. Gillespie asked his son if he had been to church.
With the schoolmaster and the doctor! Imphm! Trade
was surely bad when Maclean was there. And was the
Laird present? Gillespie wanted to know if the Laird,
with whom he had business, was at home. The collectorship
of harbour and passenger dues at the Pier was about
to become vacant. The present man, Gillespie had wormed
out of the factor, was paying in rent one hundred pounds
per annum. The Laird had no notion of what the business
was worth. The steamship dues alone paid this
rent; the passenger dues — which in the summer were
considerable stood a clear profit, and must run to
hundreds of pounds. Gillespie meant privately to make
an offer to the Laird over the present man's head of
one hundred and twenty pounds per annum, and use his
son as a catspaw. He was a dwaibly, fushionless body,
good enough at books, but useless for hard work. Such
a post the Laird must see would be the very thing for
his son. This would knock the colleging scheme of that
old rogue the schoolmaster on the head, and at the same
time bring in a handsome income.
"Ye didna see the Laird, did ye no'? Maybe noo ye
werena keekin'."
"I wasn't," answered Eoghan doggedly; "I was looking
at the minister."
"That'll please Stuart," Gillespie said merrily.
"It wasn't Mr. Stuart."
"An' who was it?" Gillespie was picking his teeth
with a fork, and spoke absently.
"It was Mr. Maurice from Ardmarkie."
"Eh! who! Mr. Maurice? Ane o' the hallelujah
boys."
His father's nonchalant, disinterested air had been
irritating Eoghan, and now a wave of anger surged over
him at the indecent libel. Instantaneously his mind
was projected forward and he saw what would happen —
his own blazing face and his father's surprise. Even as
he jumped to his feet he saw his action take being to
meet what his imagination had already forecast. He
snatched up a dinner spoon.
"Another word against Mr. Maurice," he yelled,
"and" — fear for an instant gripped his throat; he
overleapt it with fierce joy — " and I'll brain you —"
He swung his arm back, and brought the spoon crashing
down on the table. His legs quivered so much that
he was scarcely able to push back his chair. He rocked
giddily out of the kitchen and, bursting into his own room,
locked the door and flung his trembling form on the
bed, where he lay face down, biting the clothes with his
teeth. Hour after hour passed. He became afraid of
his father, and determined to leave the house. Fear
passed into defiance; defiance into cynicism. As he lay
brooding, the words of the preacher came back to him
without any conscious effort to recall them; they stole
into his soul with solace and balm. Again he heard
the gracious prayer, and felt how a vision of angels had
swept through the church. He arose and, searching
for his Bible, passed out of his room into the kitchen.
It was empty. Topsail Janet was aloft in the Coffin,
scrutinising the face of Jesus in the picture on the wall,
Gillespie was gone in search of the Laird's factor. Eoghan
passed through the kitchen to his mother's room and saw
her dark form on the bed.
"Is that you, mother?"
He heard a deep sigh: "Where have ye been all day,
Eoghan?"
"At church."
There was silence. Again she sighed deeply.
"Are you not feeling well?" His voice betrayed
anxiety.
"Oh, I'm sick! sick!" she answered, "sick of my
life; oh, Eoghan, my temples are throbbing like to burst!"
He knew that if he did not say it now his courage
would ooze away, and his heart began to beat rapidly.
"Mother" — he spoke in a low voice — "I had a strange
dream last night about you —"
"What was it, Eoghan?" she asked, in a faint, listless
tone.
"I saw you and myself and Mary Magdalene —"
An exclamation of horror from the bed interrupted
him.
"— and Mr. Maurice was preaching to-day about
Mary Magdalene."
"It's no' canny, Eoghan, your dream." She was half
sitting up in bed now, gazing large-eyed at her son.
"There's something strange about it, mother." His
face was full of gloom and his voice broken as he said:
"Mother, I would like to read about Mary Magdalene
to you."
"Ay," she answered, "it's Sabbath. I haven't read
the Bible since I left Lonend. You'll need a light,
Eoghan."
He returned to the kitchen, found a lamp on the
mantelpiece, and carried it into the bedroom. His
mother was sitting up in bed. He lingered over the
lamp, afraid now to begin. The untrimmed wick was
smoking. He opened the Bible, rustling the leaves
loudly.
"Can't ye find the place, Eoghan? I don't remember
where it is."
"It's in Luke," he muttered; "I forget the chapter."
At that moment his eye lighted on the passage. He
tried to begin, but the words would not come. He
wetted his lips with his tongue.
"I've found the place," he said.
"Will you give me a drink of water, Eoghan?"
Again he passed into the kitchen, from which he heard
his mother's weary sigh. She took the glass from him
with shaking hand. He bent his head over the Bible till
she drank. When the gurgling sounds ceased, he glanced
up and saw her sitting, tumbler in hand, her head drooping
like one who is a prey to dejection, her eyes fixed on the
coverlet. She seemed to have forgotten him. In a
strained voice he began to read:
"'And one of the Pharisees desired Him that He would
eat with him.'"
"What's that you're saying, Eoghan?"
He looked up and saw her bewildered eyes upon him.
"I'm reading about Mary Magdalene."
"Mary Magdalene!" The bewilderment of her eyes
was now in her voice.
A strangling tightness in his chest prevented him from
continuing.
"Eoghan" — her querulous voice seemed to come from
an infinite distance— "will you tell Janet I want to speak
to her?"
"Oh, mother! mother! let me read the Bible first"
— he was unconscious that he screamed the words — "it
did me so much good to-day."
"Ay! ay!" she repeated mechanically, "read the
Bible; this is the Sabbath day."
"'And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner,
when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's
house, brought an alabaster box of ointment" — his
throat was bursting. It cost an immense effort to
articulate the words. His mother had fallen back on
the bed; her eyes were fixed upward with a glassy stare
on the ceiling — "'and stood at His feet behind Him weeping,
and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe
them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and
anointed them with the ointment —'" Emotion over
came him. The lines were all blurred. He blinked
rapidly and the print swam up clear again, and he went
on reading: "'Now when the Pharisee which had bidden
Him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man,
if he were a prophet, would have known who and what
manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: for she is
a sinner.'"
He glanced at his mother; her eyes were closed.
"Mother, are you listening?"
"God peety me!" There was a distracted look on
her face which terrified him. He jumped to his feet
and the Bible fell to the floor.
"Mother! mother! what's wrong wi' ye?"
Her head swayed to and fro on the pillow; a low,
moaning sound escaped her lips.
"Oh, Eoghan! Eoghan! my temples are throbbing:
my head's burstin'. Oh! Oh! Oh! it's on fire!
Will ye no' tell Janet to come?"
He ran into the kitchen.
"Janet! Janet!" he yelled, "mother's ill; come
quick!" He heard Topsail moving on the stair and ran
back to the room. His mother was again sitting up in
bed, the light of fever in her eyes, and scarlet patches on
her cheeks. Topsail came in panting.
"Away, you," she commanded in a firm voice, "away
an' tek' a. breath o' fresh air. I ken what to do."
He felt a sudden sense of relief at Topsail's quiet
confidence and mastery, and hurriedly left the room.
On the stairhead he stood pondering. How easily the
minister had that day affected him, and how futile had
been his own effort to bring his mother to the Ultimate
Refuge of men from the whips of existence. He remembered
his Bible, and hurried back to pick it up. As he
gained the threshold of the bedroom he saw Topsail
Janet standing with her back to him, and the whisky
bottle which himself had bought in her left hand. His
mother was drinking. He heard the tumbler clink
against her teeth.
"There noo; that'll do ye good."
Eoghan felt suddenly whipped, defeated, a spy. The
devouring eagerness with which his mother drank,
pressing the tumbler with both hands to her chattering
mouth, revolted him. He crept backwards and stole
through the kitchen; and in the darkness of his own
room became a prey to misery. The picture of his mother
sitting up dishevelled in bed ran before his eyes in
lines of fire upon the darkness. He closed his eyes to
banish it; but it would not leave him. He went about
groping for his cap, seeing his mother's haunting face
before him. He put out his hands in front of him as
he went down the stair. "Good God! Good God!"
he kept muttering. "Good God! what's to become o'
us now?" and he passed out into the night.
CHAPTER VII
A VAST, jet-black cloud trailed upon the sea, with a
clear white rift in its eastward portion wedged in between
sea and sky. The waves ran fiercely beneath this cloud.
It was an ominous sight to the crew of the Sudden Jerk,
which was making bad weather of it with Iain Strang
at the wheel. A small, lumpy man in sou'-wester and
oilskins was forward, peering over the windward gunwale
at a marly sky which glared and bled as with wounds.
The engineer, huddled against the engine-room casing,
was patching a hole in the bottom of the bowl of an old
clay with a piece of cod-skin. He was doing this to keep
a grip of his nerve. He had just shouted to Iain, "Let
her away for Ardrossan; there's no' a bucketful o' coal
in the bunkers." From where he sat the wind appeared
to be pinning Iain to the large wooden wheel.
After every flash of spindrift heads jerked up over
the Ardrossan breakwater to watch a little steamer with
a wisp of an ochreish funnel sheer through the spume,
loom out of it, and vanish again in a cloud like the phantasmagoria
of a dream. Inch by inch she lunged nearer,
warring with the waste. They saw her peaked black
nose rise and plunge like a thing in agony; then she
wriggled down into the trough and rolled to her gunwales.
They heard the soggy clank, clink of her wearied engines
fitfully through the screaming of the wind and the roar
of the water — clattering and wheezing, and tearing
herself in every swipe of the cross seas. The harbour
master was dancing on the breakwater, yelling through
a speaking-trumpet and waving off the labouring steamer.
It blew hard from the sou'-east; the sky was changing
its appearance every few minutes; it was impossible to
open the dock gates in face of the tremendous seas.
"There's nothing for it but to run," Iain yelled over
his shoulders, and heaved himself upon the wheel.
The engineer rose and went below to nurse his coal.
"The harbour mud 'ill get washed off the flukes the
night," he muttered, and flung the old clay into the
heart of a grey comber.
They ran before the gale, sweeping past a tramp steamer
and a large blue-funnelled liner hove to. They dared
not broach her now. The stern lay low on the water,
and the frightsome following twin seas curled up on either
hand as high as the funnel, threatening momentarily to
swoop upon the stern. It was necessary to steam her
hardest to out-race that pursuing wall of water. A
slackness at the wheel, the variation of a foot, and the
Sudden Jerk would sink like a stone. Grey sheets of
spindrift rose off the water and fell like sleet across
the decks. To port, to starboard, and ahead nothing was
visible but leagues of spindrift, out of which suddenly
loomed phantom-like a lonely grey ship-of-war, smoking
through the seas, the black snout of a long gun pointing
through the spray. She had a faded, drenched appearance,
yet looked fierce as the sea she warred with, and
hungry against the naked sky-line as war itself. Her
funnels belched flame.
"Rule, Britannia!" yelled the engineer; "wish we'd
a ton o' your steam-coal."
High off the north end of Arran, where the wind
shrilled down the glens with a tormented sound, they
met the cross seas of the two channels.
"There's nothing for it but Brieston Harbour," yelled
fain.
"By hedges, it's blowin'!" the engineer answered,
roaring into the wall of wind, with the words flung back
in his teeth. There was a sob of fear in his voice. He
swung round the ventilator.
"Here's a Goäd Almighty sea comin'," screamed the
man at the wheel with Iain. A ghostly grey-back swooped
up and shouldered aboard forward; the ventilator melted
away beneath the engineer's hand, and he recovered
breath sitting in a river of water in the corner made
by the engine-room casing and the foot of the bridge.
The bridge ladder was gone. She was half filled forward.
"Let it go by the gangway," shouted Iain.
The lumpy man in oilskins crawled aft and began
wrestling with the gangway door, which refused to yield.
Iain swung himself over the bridge railing and dropped
on the slanting deck. He crawled aft, disappeared down
the engine-room, to reappear with a large hammer.
Gauging her plunge, he staggered forward. Crash!
crash! came the hammer-head; the gangway door swung
open; the torrent of salt water hissed out. Iain, caught
in the suction, saved himself by dropping the hammer
and clutching a stanchion. The Sudden Jerk heaved
up, relieved from the weight of water, and righted herself.
The gangway door swung to and caught Iain on the
leg. It snapped like matchwood. He fell, pinned as
in a vice. The lumpy man yelled on the engineer.
Together they extricated Iain, whose face was drawn with
pain, and bore him to shelter in the lee of the casing
beneath the bridge.
From where he lay he instructed them to work the
Sudden Jerk into the Loch, hugging the east shore.
The wind was howling from end to end of the Loch at
the same time, and the whole body of the storm leapt in
dense black squalls. Lightning flickered and darted
among the clouds bastioned on the south-east horizon.
Gillespie was about to be punished for his greed.
The coal was done. They burned the platform of the
hold and fired her with herring boxes. The steam-gauge
was emptying with ominous rapidity. With a list to
port she was now swept by the seas clean as a table.
Her head broached away constantly. She began to
wallow. The engineer came up for the last time from
the bowels of the ship. His teeth clicked as he tried to
articulate the words.
"The fire's — oot —" He turned from the sick son
and began to curse the father. "No' — even a rag — o' a
sail —" Gillespie had refused to supply them with a
mizzen. He was not the man to provide both sail and
stea .
The dark fell. She drove now, beam on, shaking
under every impact of the solid water.
The engineer peered into the engine-room and heard
water washing on the plates.
"It's no' a steamer," he muttered, "it's a mill; she's
chokin';" he was on the verge of madness through terror.
Slowly she sagged towards an iron coast. The lumpy
man crawled out of the forecastle, and came aft hand over
fist along the starboard gunwale.
The engineer eyed him vaguely.
"Whaur's the cook?" he asked.
"He's forrut, greetin'."
The deck-hand, dressed in his best clothes and wearing
a collar and tie, spoke apologetically
"I'm no' goin' to be picked up in dongarees."
"Dressed for your funeral, by hedges," the engineer
laughed hysterically.
"Let go — the anchor — it may — hold," Iain, dazed
with pain, was whispering. No one paid him any attention.
He lay listening to the boom along the shore mingling
with the steady scream of the wind.
"Another ton o' coal an' we'd have made the Hair--
hour;" the engineer's words were a roar of despair. A
small sickly moon, hoar-white, sheered out of the clouds.
Iain opened his eyes.
"She was right — the spey-wife," he muttered; "it's
comin'; it's no' the wee fellow after all — thank God —
one of you will find the other." His face became inexpressibly
sad. His mouth was open, miserable, hanging
loosely, dejected. For a moment he heard a triumphing
scream in the rush of the wind, felt the drunken swaying
of the ship as if she were being butted by an enormous
ram; then a great vacancy stretched away before his
eyes. He was oppressed by an intolerable heartache
which divorced all sorrow, pain, and desire. There was
nothing left but infinite vacancy stretching away far
beyond the roaring of the sea, and the hills, the moor
and the hoar-white moon. With incredible swiftness
an age of a thousand years out of a remote past rolled
up before him, and he felt himself swimming into this vast
peace of eternity. He opened his eyes to see if the world
were real, and across the gunwale saw through a cleft
on the foreland in the scud of the moon the tall, harled
gables of the pallid "Ghost" as of a thing he had never
beheld before. The next moment the Sudden Jerk
crashed and shivered through her length; there was a
grinding, ripping, tearing sound; a rending of wood and
iron that was swallowed up as an enormous sea rose
and broke over her stern. A sickening sensation stole
over Iain. He closed his eyes, as he felt himself being
lifted and torn away into darkness ….
Her nose rose slowly in the air, and a huge sea hurled
her forward. There was a loud explosion, as she burst
amidships. The after part vanished; the water boiled
where it disappeared; then broke into its turbulent race
shoreward.
Nothing but the stem of a broken ship and the water
sculptured gigantically by the gale to tell that brave
lives had been cast away through the insensate greed
of a man.
Behind the window in the "Ghost," which Iain's
dazed eyes had glimpsed as he passed away from it for
ever, sat two persons: old Mr. Strang on a hard wooden
chair placed against the great four-poster bed tented
with red curtains, in which generations had been born
and died. Opposite was the big fire-place with whitewashed
jambs. Between the fire-place and the dresser
in a corner was a cushioned box, on which Eoghan sat.
The racks of the dresser were full of willow-pattern plates
and, beneath, old punch-bowls lying on their sides. A
long shelf above the fire-place was sacred with relics —
some of them far-fetched articles brought home by the
old man's brother, who had made many foreign voyages
and was buried in an unknown place abroad; the long--
necked champagne bottle which had been opened at
Mr. Strang's wedding; a crystal christening bowl. These
were silent orisons in glass; things of eld on which a
moss of affection grew; monuments of old happiness and
sorrow. Over them all the hundred-year-old wag-at--
the-wa' ticked still in tune and time, and in a corner
by the meal-barrel was a mouldered spinning-wheel,
which the hands of many women now dead had used. It
was a room heavy with the odour of antiquity, and to
Eoghan transforming what had been the reality of the
past into a romance in the present, haunting him with
a certain wistfulness, a tender note of mournfulness
for those dear ones who had lived, suffered, aspired,
and passed into the unknown. He felt very strongly
Iain's absence to-night, as he listened to the arid patter
of the rain on the window like the hard hoofs of little
animals. He was oppressed by a sense of disaster; but
dreaded to speak his fear, lest he divert his grandfather's
mind also to a sorrowful contemplation of danger.
Part of a ham hung from an iron hook in the ceiling.
The old man stood on a chair and took it down to cut
some for their tea.
"It'll put by the winter," he said, sighing; "your
faither said I'll be glad to go an' beg frae him yet. God
be thankit! I'll no' be brocht to that. I'm in no man's
debt." He pushed back a thick, black, curling lock
behind his ear. "I've aye peyed my way. Iain, God
bless him, he never failed me for my feu duty and taxes
frae the day he gied aboard a boat. What wad I do
withoot him? He's better to me than twenty sons.
Och! och! I bocht a shop for Gillespie an' gied him curing--
sheds wi' a' I saved frae the fishin', an' I'm left bitin'
my nails noo. How could I help it when he wad come
greetin' on my face sayin' his business was goin' back?
Ay! I gied Iain the cheque to go to the bank, an'
swithered too, for I was leavin' mysel' bare in my old
age. Och! och! an' Iain said, 'He's your son, grandfaither.'
It was Iain knew hoo greedy he was then,
though I didna. An' it was Iain's own name wi' mine
that was on the deposit receipt, for it was to him it was
to go. Weel, Gillespie got it an' made a big sicht o'
money, and then I askit my ain back."
"'What's an auld man lik' you needin' a' that money
for?'
"'Gillespie,' I said; you're weel off noo; gie me the
siller I lent you; it's no' for mysel', it's for Iain.'
"'Iain! Iain's a young man; let him face the world
an' mak' his wy lik' me.'
"'God forbid,' I said.
"'Don't be nesty noo ower a wee pickle siller' — that's
your faither's way, Eoghan, to turn the fact on every
one but himsel'. I could maist greet to think that his
mither's son had siccan a black he'rt."
"'I canna sterve,' I said to him.
"'Hoots, I'll no' see ye bate for bite or sup.'
"'Dinna fash, Gillespie. God has never seen me go
wantin'. I'll mand for a' the time I hae to leeve. If
ye'll no' can gie me my ain, pay me seven pounds noo
for your mither's coffin.' Och! och! poor granny!"
The old man's body shook pitiably. Eoghan was
swallowing back the choking sobs.
"'I haena any ready money by me; thae traivellers
are aye on the top o' me; there's no leevin' wi' them,
faither,' that's what he said." The muscles on the old
man's face became rigid.
"'Faither! did ye say? Never ca' me that again as long
as ye leeve. Ye're nae mair a son o' mine. The curse
o' God Almighty 'ill visit ye yet for this. Some day ye'll
darken my door when the hand o' God lies sore on ye —
ay, some day. If ye winna pey me, ye'll pey Him.
He's His ain judgment bidin'."
Even as he spoke the judgment was begun: the
foundations of the house of Gillespie Strang were being
sapped. Iain his son lay with a broken leg in the lee
of the engine-room casing. This as a privation would
not have been momentous to Gillespie had he known;
but what would have troubled him would have been the
knowledge that the skilled hand was departed from the
wheel, and his uninsured craft was exposed to imminent
peril.
Eoghan, saddened by the recital, sat with a look of
hopeless misery, the incarnation of a recent description
of him: "Ye ay expect him to be greetin' wi' thon
face."
The great seas thundered on the beach without. The
wind was now as stallions maddened by demon riders
and screaming in pain; now in a lull as eagles from eyrie
headlands, whose great wings rustled fiercely as they
swept past. The door opened with a rush of the wind.
The visitor had to force it shut with his shoulder. He
came in stooping, dripping wet, a thin, pale-faced, white--
haired man, round-shouldered a little, with small eyes
which, when they rested on old Mr. Strang, melted with
tenderness. It was James the sailmaker, who lived in
a loft among the rats, and who often in his evening walk
visited Mr. Strang. To-night, however, he came on a
mission.
"It's tempestuous wild, Jamie," said old Mr. Strang.
The sailmaker pulled down the collar of his jacket
and took a seat.
"I'm anxious," he said. "Gillespie wouldn't allow
a mizzen or foresail on his steamer."
The old man rose to his feet, then sat down, and his
dark, massive head fell forward. He knew the way of
the sea. Presently he raised his head, and going to the
outside door opened it. Those within heard him moan
two words twice over, "Mo thruaigh! mo thruaigh!"
He wrestled with the door and returned to the kitchen.
"It's sou'-east," he said, and the leonine head sunk on
the breast; "Iain — Iain — granny's boy —"
The sailmaker rose, and looking at Eoghan said in a
low voice:
"Bring down the Books."
Eoghan gave him his grandfather's Bible, a broad
book with large type.
"Let us sing together the twentieth psalm."
The wind raved without; the firmament seemed to be
huddling along in a dark madness.
"Jehovah hear thee in the day
When trouble He doth send;
And let the name of Jacob's God
Thee from all ill defend."
The sailmaker's head was thrown back, his eyes were
on the ceiling with a rapt look, his voice rang out full,
resonant, appealing above the storm. The old man
sat with his head buried in his hands. Eoghan's eyes
were fixed intently on the sailmaker, the intercessor
who, he was persuaded, was in that moment in communion
with the Almighty. Strong and compelling the
sailmaker's voice soared, as if he were summoning
legions of angels from the throne of Heaven.
The psalm was finished and he announced in a loud
voice: "Let us read in the hundred and seventh psalm."
Eoghan waited upon the rustling of the leaves as if
Fate were stealing a march ahead. The sailmaker cast
up his eyes to the ceiling in silent invocation and began
to read:
"'They go down to the sea in ships,'" — ("and meet with
lightning, snow, and tempest,") — the words were arising
involuntarily in Eoghan's mind — "'they mount up to
heaven, they go down again to the depths,'" — ("It's sou'--
east, sou'-east, the shelterless wind;" an overmastering
desire came upon Eoghan to scream out the words) —
"'their soul is melted because of trouble.'" Eoghan had a
sudden vision of Iain, his mouth open, drooping, wretched;
his sorrow-smitten face — "Ye'll mind my words when
one o' ye finds the other" — the spey-wife's malicious
face rose before him, symbolical of doom. His knees
quaked and shook together. In that moment he knew
his brother was lost. "'Then are they glad because they
be quiet: so He bringeth them to their desired haven —'"
"No! no! no! Iain! Iain! Drowned among the
lightning and the storm; no more, no more."
The sailmaker looked up wonderingly at the wild cry.
"Wheest!" he chided, "it is still his haven; he shall
be glad because he is quiet." The sign without clattered
as with the jangling sound of the spey-wife's tins.
Down on their knees they went, his grandfather's
boots scraping on the floor. The fervent voice of the
sailmaker rose in appeal to the Maker of the heavens
and the earth to safeguard him who that night was
tossing upon the stormy deep. The clamour of the wind
could not drown the voice; in sobbing tones it pleaded
with Jesus of Galilee to intercede at the right hand of
God, and in simple, burning words life and destiny were
committed to the care of the Great, All-Seeing Father.
The old man rose with difficulty from his knees, with
tears upon his face. The house shook to the onset of
the gale; the seas tore and clawed upon the beach. A
gigantic comber burst in thunder, and its spindrift
whipped across the window-pane. This was part of
that long wall of water which, smashing upon the stern
of the Sudden Jerk, had lifted Iain away into the vast
darkness and the desired haven where there is quiet.
Eoghan had trotted down this road from the "Ghost"
to the Crimea gun before — blindly as now. He
remembered — it was in that awful dream. The wind
tore at him as he stood clinging with his arms cast about
the muzzle of the gun, and staring into the blinding waste
seaward. The rollers burst with loud reports on the
concrete fragments of the Pier at the end of the road,
and the spray flew in sheets, soaking him to the skin.
He felt nothing, heard nothing, as he strained out across
the wild wash and roar of the night. He had been
capricious, sensitive to affront, quick-tempered, secretive,
full of pride, obsessed with dreams and hopes of future
distinction. Probably had he lived and been tutored
by circumstance he would have developed into a more
human being, less selfish, brooding and capricious, and
in old age have become a tender, pious man. But hauteur,
secrecy, brooding, gave way at the moment to hopeless,
incurable grief. Like all sensitive souls he was paying
the price for his gift of imagination. His soul was
flayed.
"Shame is sitting at the fire, and sorrow looking in
at the window from the sea. I wish I were dead too."
Iain's mournful face swam up before him. He saw the
whites of the eyes turned up and the open, pitiable mouth
all wet. "I slept with him. I stole sweeties out of the
shop and passed them to him on Sundays." He clenched
his fist, sinking his nails into his palm. He was feeling
the answering squeeze of his brother's fingers. He
remembered a clear-shining night and a rising moon,
and the sails of fishing-boats shimmering against tall
dark hills, and Iain wrapping him in a great-coat as they
stood on the bridge at the wheel. For a long time Iain
had refused to allow him aboard the Sudden Jerk.
"You're far better in your bed at home, young fellow.
Thon life's no' for you." The fact is that Iain never
trusted the Sudden Jerk; but in fine midsummer weather
he had yielded, and by the wheel on the bridge had taught
Eoghan to steer by compass and read the mariner's
stars. Eoghan remembered now how in the cold wind
of the dawn Iain with tender solicitude had sent him
with eyes heavy on sleep to bunk, and on the next day
had commanded him home in one of the herring-skiffs.
"Sonny, you're not built for this work; take my tip
and quit." Eoghan saw again the white teeth flashing
as he laughed. And now that mouth of laughter, those
radiant dark eyes, were drenched in the brine. He felt
his heart was breaking, and leaning his head upon the
gun burst into a paroxysm of sobbing — another tragic
echo of humanity's ancient heart-break cry for what is
irretrievably lost.
"Oh, dear God! how I loved to hear him laugh —
cold, cold in a sea-grave —"
CHAPTER VIII
IN a sea-town which harbours a fishing-fleet these are
the footsteps of the men in the night which the women
know — the trudge which tells of bleak shores and empty
boats; the joyous ring of the steel-shod heels with which
the younger men dent the pavements, crying aloud of
herring; and another step — ominous, slow, shuffling, as
men creep silently home. Women strain their ears, for
the step may not stop at their door; and if it does not —
why, there shall no longer be the big sea-boots to clean.
On that step at the threshold hangs life and death; will
it go by or enter in? The families who have given tithe
of their folk to the sea have heard it pass away up the
lane into a silence which, louder than trumpetings, they
shall never forget. What a moment is that when the
step comes to the door and it is opened and "Oh, is
it you?" cries the wife or daughter, and, overcome with
joy, drags in the wearied man! In another house the
wife is lying staring into the dark waiting, waiting for
the feet that will never come.
Such a step would never come to Gillespie's door;
only the footstep of Eoghan, who passed into the kitchen,
drenched to the skin, and looked in silence upon his
father, who was bending over a ledger opened on the
table.
"How's the wind?" he asked without glancing up.
Eoghan shuddered.
"Sou'-east," he answered.
"No fishin' the nicht," Gillespie grunted in a dissatisfied
tone; "Iain 'ill be playin' the f'ute to the
Ardrossan keelies."
"You'll never hear his step upon the stair again."
Eoghan wondered why he said that, and how dispassionately
he uttered it. The clock ticked on through a
minute's silence. "Never again! never again!" it was
rapping out. Gillespie laid down his pen in the cleft
of the book and slowly lifted his head.
"What's that ye're sayin'?"
"Iain has found his desired haven."
Gillespie stretched out his hand for the pen. "Ay!
he'll hae a' the tinklers o' Sautcoats listenin' to him in
the fo'c'sle."
"That's not the haven;" Eoghan spoke calmly, as if
wrapt in a far-off dream. The hand of Gillespie was
arrested on its way to the pen.
"Whatna hairbour?" he asked sharply.
"Heaven, I hope."
The hand slowly slid backwards and fell off the table,
and Gillespie rose to his feet, supporting himself by gripping
the edge of the table. His eyes were dilated upon
his son.
"Eoghan" — his voice shook — "what dae ye mean?
Wha told ye?"
"Iain's drowned and I'll find him. The spey-wife
told me.''
Gillespie's mouth slowly opened. In a flash Eoghan
saw its resemblance to that of Iain in its slack, dejected
droop.
"Drooned! Hoo can that be an' him in Ardrossan
Hairbour a nicht lik' this?"
"They're at the bottom of the sea, steamer and all."
Gillespie sank limply into his chair and stared fixedly
before him. "Drooned! drooned! a nicht lik' this.
I thocht he had some skill o' the sea, an' was playin'
his f'ute to the Ardrossan keelies; drooned! an' the
steamer no' insured —" Gillespie was ignorant that
he was alone in the kitchen. For the first time in his
life his ledger was as ashes.
To the sorrow which death brings it was a grievous
addition in the minds of maritime nations that their dead
should by mischance lie weltering in the ooze. We have
that noblest of laments by Propertius, giving poignant
utterance to this feeling in words full of the complaint
and roar of the sea:
"And now thou hast the whole Carpathian Sea for
a grave."
Men whose labours are in the deep abhor its vastness
for a sepulchre, whether it be in the great South Seas
or within sight of the lights of home.
So new "sweeps" had to be prepared for dragging
the Loch when they discovered the bow of the Sudden
Jerk pointing skyward among the rocks — a lonely,
pathetic memorial to the drowned. The old "sweeps,"
the property of the town, had last been seen in the sail--
maker's loft. Some said they had been sent to Ardmarkie
when a fishing-skiff had sunk there in the first of the
great gales which arose after the plague ship had come.
Brieston was prepared to have new "sweeps" made at
the public cost when, contrary to expectation, Gillespie
sent the hanks of rope, the twine, and the hooks to the
Good Templars' Hall, where the fishermen had gathered.
"Boat an' son lost; the birch is on his back," it was said,
when Sandy the Fox deposited the material in the Hall.
Eoghan could not endure the house, which had suddenly
become too big. The sight of his brother's clothes in
their room was intolerable, and he heard his mother
weeping in the kitchen. The shop was closed; every one
was idle a cloud of inertness lay on the town. Stocks and
stones and living beings gazed dumbly upon each other.
He crept to the Good Templars' Hall, which he found half
full of men scattered over the forms. Each man had a
coil of string and a pile of gleaming hooks at his side.
Old Sandy was teaching a younger fisherman how the
thing was done.
"Put a clove hitch on't — see, like that." The old
man twisted the thin twine at one end twice round the
index finger, ran the other end through the double loop
thus made, placed the ends of three hooks together,
inserted these ends within the loops, tightened the loops
upon the butt of the triple hook by pulling the end of
the twine, and then wound a thinner piece of string
tightly along the diminutive grappling anchor thus made.
To this anchor of hooks a yard of string was attached,
and hundreds of these so constructed were fastened,
each by this yard of string, to a long, stout back-rop
at intervals of about half a fathom. With this apparatus
the bed of the Loch was to be swept. As Eoghan watched,
the glittering hooks became like snakes. They would
find Iain; would sink into his face, tear out his eyes …
Dizziness came over him; the Hall and its figures grew
blurred. He felt himself about to fall, and groping to
a form sank down on it. He saw his father walking
about among the men, his face drawn and haggard.
Not wishing to be seen by Gillespie he swayed upon his
feet and stole out. He saw the blinds drawn in the shop
in the Square and in the house. Harbour Street was
empty save for a large black dog, which lay with its head
on its paws and its amber eyes fixed on the door of the
Hall, and further along towards the Square the town
scavenger with his barrow. He shuddered at the bleak
aspect, and mechanically turned in the direction of the
"Ghost." On the Pier Road people passed him with
pitying glances. A woman dressed in furs and carrying
a small paper parcel halted and spoke to him. He cast
a forlorn look at her and hurried on. He passed the
"Ghost" with bent head, hoping he was unnoticed. In
that hour of bitterness he could not face his grandfather,
whom he knew would be sitting on the chair against
the bed, his elbows on his knees, reading the Bible. At
the end of the shore-road, a little beyond the guns, he
climbed a fence that ran down into the sea, and stumbled
along among boulders and bracken. A long grey foreland
rested upon the sea in front of him like a gigantic
whale asleep. He climbed out of the valley of bracken
up the face of the foreland. The same benumbed calmness
now possessed him, as he was about to gain the ridge,
which he had experienced last night when talking to
his father. He knew what the shore held beyond that
ridge. Presently he was on the top, and below him saw
the thing — a sharp bow projecting over a rock, tilted
upwards and pointing straight at him. A piece of rope
hung over the bow and swayed in the breeze. The thin
foremast, displaced by the shock, leaned away with a
deep rake from the bow, as if in dissension with that part
of the ship which had led it to this death-trap. The
only thing of man's handiwork on that long grey shore,
it looked, in its battered blackness, full of profound pathos
— melancholy, solitary, empty, dead. Eoghan gazed
down in awe. The sinister calm which is in the heart
of a cyclone possessed him. He had passed beyond
tears to unutterable pain. The emptiness of the broken
boat, the silence of the sea, piled upon him a world-weight
of heartache. Like a blind man he groped down the
hillside. Above the shore the russet hazel wood was
thick with nuts, through which glanced the streak of a
squirrel. With a rush the memory came upon him of
their last visit to a hazel wood, and the ominous prophecy
of the spey-wife. He stood on the edge of the water
and peered out beyond the broken thing on the rocks
into the blue-black depths, profound, silent, oily.
"Down there, down there," he groaned.
The water had a silky movement, a lazy, noiseless
motion; its dark, blind, restless face looked up at him
ironically. There was something insatiable in its depths,
inscrutable in its calm, stealthy and padding as a beast
coming out of a wood in its gluck upon the rocks. It
watched him with fixed, glassy eye — an eye void of intellect
and passion, but baleful, hard, and cold. Beneath
the eye it was a long, black, polished wall down which
men slipped — the Lazaruses of the sea. He looked
abroad upon the flat, unwinking face of the deep with
growing terror. He recalled his old fear of it as a boy —
fear of its eyes of fire — terrible eyes that watched and
waited for him. A chill struck upon his heart. The
silence around him had become monstrous. It lay like a
great dark-green wing against the face of the hill. Menace
was materialising. The naked rocks jutting out of the
heather had a savage look. He was in the presence of
loneliness, in the presence of death animated by terror.
The sea became glassy like the eyes of the dead, and fearful
as if such eyes were to wink. The silence was now a
material thing — shutters of iron pressing in upon his
brain. He turned sharply and saw a face of horror upon
the wood. It, too, was full of eyes watching him. Menace
surrounded him — eyes in the forest and nemesis in the
sea. He heard his heart beat loudly in the stillness.
A gull flapped past with a carrion stroke of its wings,
accentuating the blasting solitude. The smoke of the
haven drifting up across the foreland seemed far-off
and homely. One of these surges of the ground swell
that roll in on the calmest days struck the shore, and
the broken boat made a harsh, grinding noise. It reminded
him of the sinister power of the sea. Fear gripped
him. He was chained to the spot, listening to his beating
heart. The wood was listening in all its blood-red
leaves as with a million ears, till on his last heart-beat
it would toss its branches aloft in fiendish glee; and the
sea was watching with its cold, merciless eyes. With a
mighty effort he wrenched himself as by the roots from
the spot and fled towards the foreland. A thing invisible
in the wood jeered behind his back. He swerved up
towards the hills, fighting his way through man-high
bracken. The trees cut off his route, and he plunged
down towards the shore, determined to crawl across
the sloping snout of the foreland, which was his shortest
way. His right side was red-hot with pain. Twice he
slipped on the smooth stone as he crossed it, and his
teeth clicked together as he heard the gurgle of the
black water in the caves below. Its sullen plunge was
the knocking of the Angel of Death at the door of his
life. He lay face downward on the sloping rock, his
nails dug into its cracks and wrinkles, and with eyes
averted from the sea crawled across the gigantic stone
nose. The ground was more open here; in a few minutes
he was across the valley and over the fence, and flung
himself down on a grassy plateau above the guns. His
body was quivering from head to foot like a doll that is
danced on springs. He buried his face in the cool turf,
drank in deep draughts of the fragrance of the soil, and
his panic oozed out of him into the profound breast of
mother earth. Ah! if he could but have sunk into her
vast bosom then, deep in the place of forgetfulness and
rest, and taken upon him the dreamless sleep of the ages.
… When he raised his head he saw, across the old
Crimea cannon and the low, flat roofs of the powder
magazines, his grandfather standing at the door of the
"Ghost" gazing out upon the Loch. Above the old
man's head the inn sign gently stirred in the sea-wind.
It was like a leaf of autumn swaying and about to fall.
Then he thought it a moribund hand beckoning to him
from the rigging of a house of mourning and calamity.
They worked till the light failed in the Hall, speaking
of the dead with commiseration. Whatever Gillespie
was, his son had been a staunch comrade, a quiet fellow,
jolly at times, without pride, and it was noted always
with a special word for the old people. They mourned
his untimely death, and rejoiced that they were privileged
to labour a little in order to do him the last service. The
rain was upon the roof at dusk when Mr. Maurice, who
was still in Brieston, entered the Hall and inquired for
Gillespie. The two entered into close conversation.
Presently Mr. Maurice walked down to the front of the
Hall, faced the men and uncovered. The wind was
rising in sudden gusts which drove the rain in showering
cascades on the windows. The men followed the example
of the minister, took off their caps, rose, and bowed their
heads. "Remember them, O Lord, that go down to
the sea in ships." The beating rain drowned his voice,
and fragments only were heard "… that are swallowed
up to await the restitution of all things. … Thy way is in
the sea, Thy path in the great waters. … O Lord God,
have pity when there is a noise of a cry from the fish-gate,
and the thresholds are desolate for the sorrow that is in
the sea … unto Thee at whose face the waters are afraid,
till there shall be no more sea … unto Thee who art the
Resurrection and the Life for ever and ever. Amen."
At the Amen old Sandy lifted his white head and face
to the ceiling, and his solemn petition rang out in a lull
of the wind to every corner of the Hall. "May Goäd
Almighty make the morrow calm."
Without, a dry moon was lying on her back — a sign,
said the old men, of good weather.
CHAPTER IX
HER mistress had lost her head, and kept on saying,
"Thank God it's no' Eoghan." Janet had managed to
soothe her, as if she were a child, when she started up,
exclaiming:
"Oh, Janet! Janet! I wish the Almighty would
burn up the sea." Topsail was amazed at any one
thinking the sea could burn. Then the secret of her
mistress's fear was revealed.
"He'll put poor Eoghan into the boats, an' he'll be
drowned next." A great deep sigh burst from the pale
lips. Her eyes stared mechanically like the fixed glass
eyes of a doll.
"There! there! dinna tak' on noo; we'll no' allow
Eoghan into the boats; he's goin' to the Coallege."
Her mistress wiped her eyes and made a gesture of
despair. "I wish He would burn it to the bone.
mind when Eoghan was a boy he was scared o' the sea."
A troubled look came into her eyes; her head fell slackly
on the back of the chair.
"Come an' lie doon a wee whilie." Topsail took her
arm and oxtered her to bed.
Topsail returned to the kitchen, and as she laid the table
for breakfast there was a hunted expression in her eyes.
"Och! och! the sea! that weary sea!" She shook her
fist in the direction of the Harbour. The astringency
and callousness of the sea had indeed invaded the house
of Gillespie.
He looked crumpled as he sat at table. His hair,
now shot with silver, had wasted away from the high
forehead. In that hour he looked old. The silence of
the meal was broken only by the canaries' crack, crackling
of their seed. He had transferred the birds from the shop
because they had attracted mice. Eoghan came in,
dressed in a jersey and a black silk muffler round his neck.
Gillespie looked up. Eoghan remarked that his father's
face had a wilted appearance. "Are ye for the sweeps?"
he asked.
"Yes."
Gillespie lapsed into silence.
"Och! no! it's no' the place for you," coaxed Topsail,
alarmed at the effect this would have on her mistress.
"Was it no' enough for poor Iain to be at the sea? Many
a sore trial he had on thae weary boats —
"Hold your tongue, wumman," Gillespie snarled.
"Och! then just bide at hame," she wheedled.
"You fool! they'll never find Iain without me."
Topsail smiled, as if the insult were a blandishment.
Gillespie gloomed upon his son with a hint of fear in
his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it
without saying anything, and went on with his breakfast.
"Is my mother not up yet?" Eoghan fixed Topsail
with a sharp glance.
"She never slept a wink a' nicht, an' has been vomitin'
a' mornin'."
Gillespie's chair scrunched on the floor. He rose
sharply to his feet.
"Did the spey-wife tell ye thon?"
"What?"
"That ye'd find Iain."
The peculiar sensation again affected Eoghan as of
speaking out of a dream. He felt impassive, immune
from either sorrow or fear, and his answer came as from
an oracle.
"She said one would be drowned, and would be found
by the other."
Gillespie contemplated him gloomily. "Old wife's
noänsense," he muttered.
"Its prophecy." Eoghan felt detached from the
world; a voice that was not of him was speaking; he
was in an environment half familiar, half strange. He
was listening again to a tale of his grandfather's; but it
was not his grandfather's voice; it was a dim, ancestral
voice. The wind of ancient days shook his soul, and a
spirit of remote times passed upon him.
"It's prophecy; always has been prophecy; a prophecy
of doom upon our house; a curse that shall never be
removed till murder is done; the hands of the son shall
be in the blood of his parents."
He was drawing slowly, then more swiftly out of a
vague immensity, hurrying at frightful velocity out of
a realm of shadows. He was dimly aware that in a
moment he would awaken from this hallucination. He
found himself shivering in the midst of the kitchen floor,
with his father's hand on his shoulder. What immediately
occurred to him was the simple thought that his
father since childhood had never touched his person.
He heard his father's voice full of sorrow:
"Are ye sleep-walkin', Eoghan?"
He shook himself slightly. "I think I was in a trance,"
he said, with a puzzled look. He became afraid as he
went slowly down the stair — afraid because he had seen
fear for a moment pass into his father's eyes.
In a stupor he took his place in one of the boats.
There were seven in all to work the "sweeps." He was
on the instant of saying, "This is the boat that will find
the body," but checked himself. What had he said to
terrify his father? He groped for the dim, elusive words.
Their meaning hovered a moment on the confines of
memory and then vanished, leaving him baffled. Why
was he here, impelled by a power not himself? If he
had refused to come they would have discovered lain
without his help. Perhaps, on the other hand, they would
never find the body.
Fragments of the conversation in the boat impinged
upon his consciousness; but conveyed no meaning:
"Poor Iain has got the auld grey nurse to rock him
asleep. He was the dacent quiet fellow … ay, but
Eoghan's her he'rt laddie; she'd lay her hair about his
feet … It must hey been a cruel night, boys. There
was an eclipse o' the sun an' new moon the same day.
I don't wonder wi' thae eclipses at folk gettin' drooned
… it's butivul weather." He was now aware that
some one was addressing him, and roused himself. It
was old Sandy. The varnished skiffs ahead of him flashed
in the sun. Over the villas on the Pier Road blue smoke
hung like foliage in the air; the bells of milk carts, taught
of Gillespie, were ringing blithely in Brieston, and cocks
shrilled lustily all round the horse-shoe Harbour, proclaiming
the blandness of the morning. A barque,
two-masted, with every sail set, was floating out tall and
stately on the tide, as if mermaids' hands were pulling her
from beneath. Quiet fish were leaping inshore where the
blue shoaled to green; ducks paddled around like floating
masses of snow; a multitude of birds sang among the
bushes.
As they cleared the outer Harbour to the rhythmic
sweep of the oars there opened up a distant clear and
blue prospect. The morning was faintly misty, and
the sunlight quivered through a shimmering veil. Blue
promontory, lazy curving bight, the sweep of bays,
flashing beaches, a panorama of forest, bracken, and
grey lichened rock filled the eye with tranquil aspect.
The shadows of rocks and trees hung motionless in the
water, and one could scarce discern where shore ended
and sea began. About the solemn fleet of boats with
barked sails reddened in the light the sea was soiled with
the scum and tangle that appear after a gale.
They drifted south, and the men, touched to taciturnity
and vague melancholy by their traffic on lonely waters,
were unusually silent, because of the solemnity with which
their mission was fraught. The shadows of gulls flitted
over the rocks; other shadows trembled in the shore--
shallows, and looked like faint waves. A dolphin's razor
back cut through the surface of the water; and far off
on the empty southern horizon stood up the sail of an
invisible boat — an aimless, solitary thing blown out to
sea. Beyond it a cloud of snowflakes drifted seaward.
It was a great flight of solan geese glittering in the sun.
They rounded the foreland across which Eoghan had
crawled, and an imposing spectacle met their gaze. In
the soft light all things looked far away, floating up out
of a dream country. In the south-east sky bars of purple
were changing rapidly to violet, to pink, to cinnabar;
here and there were nooks of delicate sea-shell tints
and traceries of gold. In the deepest sky was a fretwork
of flame, which changed to cloud cataracts of
golden fire. Stark against those swaying, gorgeous sky--
flowers was the black mast of the broken ship, pricked out
in unrelieved desolation, and the bow rearing up impotent
and sombre against the magic and splendour of multitudinous
pools and lines of fire. She was bathed in a
baptism of flame, heeling into the long dream-glory of
the lingering morning. The southern isles swam up in
mirage into the atmosphere, and became diaphanous
apparitions in the midst of vast sea-spaces — cloud-crowned
islands floating in light, transient and melting as in a
thoroughfare of sea-dreams. "Boys, it bates a' the
artists" — old Sandy's face quickened as he gazed on
the spectacle of ineffable beauty. Eoghan raised
head and looked across the gunwale. In the heart of
the glowing sky pain was seated. Pathos and poignancy
rested upon that elusive vanishing glory. It was full of
sadness, this ethereal tapestry of light, woven of angels'
jewelled hands, and spread by them over the dead in his
cold, dark grave. Eoghan groaned within himself. This
splendour mocked him with its irony; its beauty made
him faint with heartache. Cold, passionless, terrible
painting! The bars of gold across the sky lay upon his
soul in that moment as metals heated in a furnace.
The boats were now strung out in a long line and
the "sweeps" let down into the sea. Each boat was
attached by a sixty-fathom line to the long back-rope,
from which hung the grappling hooks. They began to
row, trailing the "sweeps." Now and again a man
shouted; the line was drawn in; the back-rope appeared;
and beneath, attached to the hooks, a mass of tangle,
which was torn off and the "sweeps" sunk once more.
Once a dog-fish was hooked. Eoghan shuddered as he
saw the grey serpent fish wriggling in the water, with its
baleful pale-blue eyes fixed upon him full of malice.
The faces of the men were channelled with sweat. Some
one in the fourth boat off shouted, "It's no' seaweed
this time!" The men in this boat began hauling gently.
A bald head shot above the water. The sun struck on
it, glittering on its wetness. Immediately on the next
grappling a dark shoulder surged through the water,
as if the man were swimming. These were the bodies
of the engineer and the deck-hand, who had gone down
together.
Again the work of mercy went on. The men in Eoghan's
boat discussed the drift of the tides, the probable position
of the body, its chances of being wedged in among
boulders. Eoghan all this time was gazing intently
into the face of the sea, as if he could divine the secrets
which lurked in its smiling face. His mind was far from
the reality of the present. He was picturing Iain alive.
He saw his white teeth flashing beneath his moustache;
saw him cock his head with a characteristic gesture;
heard his slow, measured speech. The face grew beneath
him out of the water, mysterious, twilit, strong with
life. The mouth was about to speak to him; the eyes
swam mistily with all their old tenderness; the laugh,
scarce more than a smile, that always got home to his
heart — the low laugh of pride on the day when Eoghan
had carried a silver medal home from school.
"You're a brick; you're small, youngster, but the
medal's bright." That was all; but it was a world. He
could hear the words now, as he beheld that dear lost
face gazing up sorrowfully from the salt grey waves.
It was full of that solicitude which he had discovered
in it on that windy dawn when he had sent him below
from the bridge. Dimly in his sleep he knew some one
was covering him in the bunk with a horse-blanket —
some one who, in the broad morning as he was preparing
to go aboard the skiff that was to bring him home, said,
"You quit the sea, youngster, an' stick to your books" —
there was a world of regret in these words — "for once she
gets you she keeps you till the end." Till the end!
He laid his hand with startling suddenness on the
heaving line. "Iain's here!" he said. Again he was
speaking out of a dreamland words not his own.
"Easy there, boys!" old Sandy shouted.
Eoghan was hauling on the line. "She keeps you till
the end" was echoing in his brain. An opaque face in
the grey water was looking up at him piteously. He
was making swallowing sounds in his throat. Oh, face
swimming up in the salt sea!
"Easy aft! easy aft!"
The wet face slid into darkness as the strain on the
back-rope from the other boats was relaxed. "Pull a
touch!" rang out the command with strained intensity.
Old Sandy was about to take the line from Eoghan's
hand when the expression on the lad's face stayed him.
Out of the dreamland beyond Time and Space that
face was growing again into his vision — the mouth was
slackly gaping; wavelets playing over the forehead and
stirring the thick dark hair; the eyes utterly dead, their
light quenched, their smile gone. They had a strange
callous stare; they looked like balls of granite, on which
the brine streamed like tears. The flesh was sodden
and of a greenish-yellow. An arm clothed in rags was
piteously stretched out to him.
"Iain! Iain!" he whispered, and leaning down over
the gunwale put his hands beneath the head. It gently
swam up to him, as if suddenly alive at his touch.
"Oh, Iain! Iain!" The piercing cry was heard in all
the boats.
"Easy there!" yelled old Sandy angrily; "don't lift
the heid oot o' the watter." From old experience he
knew that the head might come away from the trunk.
Eoghan did not hear him. He slipped his arm around
the shoulders, embracing the body and sobbing, "Come
home! come home, Iain!" The shoulders lurched up;
he leaned far over the gunwale, drew the face upwards and
placed his mouth on the clammy lips, on the moustache,
on the brow. Old Sandy deftly slipped the bight of a
rope beneath the shoulders, and to disengage Eoghan
put the end of the rope into his hands. Other ropes
were slipped down to the middle, the thighs, the feet.
The nearest boat came up and closed in on the other side.
In the quadruple sling they lifted the dripping body out
of the water, tenderly as if it were gossamer. The broken
leg hung limply. Old Sandy nodded to the men in the
other boat, then glanced at Eoghan. They lifted the
body into this boat, which drew apart.
Eoghan sat in the bow, his eyes fixed on the boat
ahead, seeing the dripping face that lay now covered
with a jib. The world was full of light, and a very little
was denied those eyes. Nothing will restore to them
their smile. He closed his own eyes wearily. "I shall
never, never hear him speak again," he thought, and
cried out:
"Oh, Sandy! Sandy! I wish I were dead."
"Ay," answered the old man, looking sadly up to
the hills; "but He doesna tek' us when we want." The
little ball of wool on the top of his round bonnet nodded
ludicrously. "He keeps us to thole an' to learn."
There was a profound look of sorrow on his wrinkled,
sea-tanned face.
Within the hour they found the cook. Of all the
crew the sea-boy was the only one whom the dog-fish
had touched — Andy Rodgers's son, and his mother was
a widow. "An ill day for Andy an' his faimly that they
ever saw Gillespa'," muttered Ned o' the Horn, as he
covered the boy's mangled face.
The boats went home in a silent, funereal procession
through a faint mist. Off the "Ghost" Eoghan asked
the men to bring Iain's body ashore there. Four of
them bore it in a sail to the house. Fog had gathered
thick from seaward. Eoghan followed behind with
drooping head. Old Strang stood beneath the sign
over the door awaiting them. He lifted his feet heavily
on the stone flags, going in before them, and with shaking
hands placed chairs in the midst of the kitchen floor.
There they laid the body, and tenderly himself the old
man set straight the broken limb which was lying awry.
When all was finished he contemplated the upturned face.
"More than a son to me." came the mournful words.
He swayed like a flower in a gale. "God kens it was
hard enough wi' the oar in his hand a' nicht; but he didna
compleen; no, he didna compleen. I'll no' be lang after
him. The kirkyaird 'll be hoose an' hame to me noo.
I'm but leevin' on borrowed ground. But the Lord
has been kind to me thae weary years wi' Iain. Thank
the Lord for His lovingkindness." The swaying of the
body ceased. It became rigid. The silence was broken
by the drip, drip of water on the stone flags.
"I'm a broken auld man, an' my son herrit my hoose;
but that's noathin'; I'm a forlorn object." The sorrowing
tones pierced the hearts of the listeners.
"Dinna tek' on, Dick," old Sandy said pityingly.
Mr. Strang lifted his gaze from the dead; his withered
eyes were searching around for the one who spoke.
"No! no!" he cried, making a gesture with his hands.
"I'm no' fashin'; what for wad an auld man wi' a rookit
hoose be fashin'? … There was a day when I could
sing a ballat; but no' noo; no' noo. … I wish I might
be beggin' at Gillespie's düre wi' my bare heid in the
rain than that this had come aboot. … A broken leg
forby! … He was as bricht as the lown morn when
he played his flute at the fire-en'! … Am I no' the fair
object? … noathin' to do but to bring him to mind."
He was now unconscious of his audience. "Iain was his
granny's boy. … 'It's growin' dark, Richard,' she
said to me; 'are the blinds doon?' but the blinds werena
doon, an' the lamp was burnin'; 'then I'm goin' fast.' …
It's growin' dark — growin' dark." He sat down heavily
on the single chair at the bed, and buried his face in his
hands.
Without in the fog the sign had ceased from its strangling
cry. The half-obliterated face of the man holding the
dagger looked down as if brooding upon the fate of the
house of Strang, and the sign was at rest. Death had
brought it reverie and peace. Out of the illimitable
grey on the Loch came the boom of a steamer's siren.
It wandered away in the vast, as if with wings growing
feebler in the baffling gloom, a wailing phantom
seeking a lost land of holy quiet. It was answered by
the mournful croak of a heron somewhere on the shore
below Muirhead Farm. Eoghan was at the door. He
had started out to seek Mary Bunch or another who would
minister to the dead. As the wailing cry on the opposite
shore died away, and the heavy blanketing silence closed
down again, his eyes strained to seaward, and out of a
far land of dreams beyond the fog and the sorrow of the
sea, beyond the weariness of watching woods and demon
forests and little sea-towns besieged by the melancholy
of waves, and mournful with the noise of rains, a drift--
music like soft bells, invincible, balmy, dividing asunder
the joints and marrow, reached him.
"They are all at rest,
They are all at rest,
Far over that summer sea."
END OF BOOK III
BOOK IV
CHAPTER I
ROB'S daughter was coming. The news moved Eoghan
deeply. How well he remembered Rob when every
winter that hero put in at Brieston in a large two-masted
smack which had come from "the North" — a land of
enchantment, where for many months he had cured
herring for a salesman in the Glasgow Fish Market,
and on the way home touched at Brieston. When the
Strang family had broken up in Ayrshire his grandfather's
brother had shipped before the mast in a Cape Horner,
leaving his wife and two young children in Ayr. Three
times he came back like a resurrected man from the
great South Seas, the last time clothed in a blanket,
having been robbed and plundered in the Vennel at
Greenock. Once more he shipped, and old Mr. Strang
thought him buried somewhere behind the Great Barrier
Reef, this luckless Archie. Of his family one, a girl,
was married, and kept a fruiterer's shop in Port Glasgow.
The other was Rob. Just as sure as the sun would rise
would a cran basket full of unused provisions be brought
by two of the smack's crew to the "Ghost." Eoghan
remembered that among other things it would contain
ketchup, which was never on Gillespie's table, and just
as sure also would the basket be followed by Rob. His
grandfather would be restless all evening, going frequently
to the front door to peer up the road to the wharf; then
return to his Bible or to patching his clothes, and when
the door would at last open he was on his feet saying,
"I got the proveesions, Rob," and Rob would laugh with
flashing teeth and "How are ye, Richard?" he would
cry. He had such big white teeth, and a light golden
beard and blue eyes filled with liquid laughter. Then
he would sit down on a chair at the bed — it was always
the same chair — and in a minute they were deep in conversation
about the North fishing. How the strange
names rang in Eoghan's ears like a song — Kylleakin,
Loch Broom, Loch Hourn, Stornoway; and Rob's teeth
flashing bare to the gums and his blue eyes dancing madly
in his head. Up and up he would hitch his trousers,
till their folds were almost at his knees.
"And how's Gillespie?" he would cry; "makin' money
as usual?" and would not wait till the old man gave an
answer. It was long afterwards that Eoghan wondered
how so hearty a fellow as Rob could be so delicate as
to save the old man from replying.
About nine o'clock Rob would take out of his pocket
a bottle which came all the way from Skye, and stamping
his trousers back over his ankles he would leave it on
the table, shake hands with the old man, and say as he
was going out of the door, "The boys 'll leave you the
herrin' the morn" — a barrel of cured herring specially
pickled by Rob.
On the morrow he was gone, trailing the savour of his
wondrous Northland, and leaving his gifts and ketchup
behind. Only once did he take particular notice of
Eoghan, who was seated with the back of his chair
against the press door beneath the wag-at-the-wa', at
the little round mahogany table, working at mathematics.
"Hullo!" he cried, "what's the professor doin'?"
and he looked over Eoghan's shrinking shoulder.
"Algebra," Eoghan answered shyly.
"Algebra! your faither could beat us a' at the coontin'.
You'll have your faither's heid for arithmetic."
"He's goin' to be a scholar," said the old man; "but
his faither 'll no' gie him money for books."
Eoghan felt humiliated, and his face became crimson.
"I'll no' see him bate, Richard;" and Eoghan saw a
big, shining half-crown lying in the midst of his hot palm.
He could not look up at Rob for the shame and the wild
joy that was in him; but gulped over his book and clenched
the coin till it burned his palm.
All that evening he watched Rob, furtively stealing
hungry glances at his sea-tanned face. He was unable
to understand this being who tossed half-crowns to boys
to buy books, and forget it all in the next moment.
He belonged to another world — the enchanted land of
Skye and the North. He could have fallen down and
worshipped this hero. And the years passed and Rob
came no more.
"Is Rob no' comin' back from the North any more,
grandfaither?"
"No more."
The dark, massive head dropped on the frail hands.
Eoghan's heart stood still with sudden fear as in a
flash he guessed. The tears rushed into his eyes.
"Grandfather, is Rob dead?"
"No more; no more," was the answer.
Deep, dim, and lost for ever within the enchanted
land beyond the magic of Loch Hourn and the wondrous
Isle of Skye lay Rob, the big, cheery laugh stilled for
ever in a land of far distances. Rob had been snatched
away by some envious power. No more the two tapering
masts and the tall smack filling the Harbour. The world
was blank and grey. It was Eoghan's second loss.
And now his daughter was coming.
"Is she to stay long, grandfather?"
"She's no' goin' back. Och! och! this is a gurt empty
hoose since Iain was drooned." After a moment's silence
he added, "We'll be kind to the lassie."
"Ay, grandfather." He wished Rob could hear him,
now a man grown, vowing defence and protection of
his girl — ah, that the gallant could hear him! but the
deep, silent North was shrouded in the twilight of eternal
sleep, and Rob lay on the shining sands where only the
seals come.
After Iain's burial Mrs. Strang began to lose strength,
and Topsail Janet could hear, mingled with her coughing
in the night, the boom of Gillespie's grumbling that his
sleep was being broken. Topsail was deceived in the
spots of red which burned on the cheek-bones of her
mistress. She simply thought they made her look very
young, while her eyes shone brightly. Maclean recommended
a change, to which Gillespie agreed for reasons
of his own. Through the chatter of his household he
had picked up the information that Barbara, Rob's
daughter, was expected at the "Ghost." He knew that
Rob had had considerable property in Dunoon, and had
no doubt that his own father was constituted the girl's
guardian. The business of getting into touch with her had
exercised him for some days, and he now instructed his
wife that she must go for a change to Dunoon and form
acquaintance with Barbara. Topsail was up before
daybreak preparing the clothes of her mistress. Her
feet could be heard crinkling through the leaves in the
back green at dawn. Gillespie gave his wife five pounds,
and Topsail added many injunctions — that she was to put
on her goloshes; to be sure and remember her toddy
before going to bed one teaspoonful of sugar; to take
good charge of her umbrella; and God forgive her if she
would allow herself to get run over with horses in the
big streets. "Hurry back; good-bye, good-bye." Topsail
hastened to the parlour window, watched the ascent
of her mistress into the 'bus at the "George Hotel,"
and stood waving a duster as the 'bus racketed down
Harbour Street and vanished beyond the police station
at the Quay.
The afternoon wore on long as a December night.
Eoghan spent most of his time at the "Ghost." The
house was singularly dreary and still as the grave.
Topsail heard all the clocks ticking. "Weary fa' that
Dunoon," she muttered for the twentieth time that
evening, and lay awake all night. At dawn she stripped
the kitchen, and at breakfast-time Gillespie found chaos,
in the midst of which Topsail abated the fever of her
mind by standing on the top of a table, with a towel
wrapped about her head, and whitewashing the ceiling.
"Ye're thrang," observed Gillespie.
Yes, she was sweeping away the cobwebs when the
chance offered. Gillespie, plunged in thought, now and
again eyed Topsail, whose face was speckled with whitewash
and ochre. She demanded that the canaries be
taken back to the shop.
When Gillespie came in that evening at nine o'clock
the kitchen shone like a star. Topsail proposed to redd
out the parlour to-morrow, and dreamt that night of
rescuing her mistress from the feet of horses, which she
beat off with a whitewash brush.
In the morning Gillespie had important news for her.
Her mistress had sent him a telegram which Topsail
eagerly scanned.
"Ay," she nodded briskly, "I ken her hand o'
write."
Gillespie, who did not trouble himself to rectify this
mistake, announced that her mistress and Barbara were
returning home.
Topsail was overjoyed at the news. "What wad she dae
in yon gurt toon, sweemin' a cuddie among a' thae
folk? I kenna what's comin' ower the doctor sendin' her
away frae the caller air among coomb an' reek." Maclean
had suffered a loss of prestige in her eyes. Gillespie,
however, had something of moment to tell her. In his
hand he held a letter, the product of long and anxious
consideration. He had determined to act as Barbara's
guardian, hoping that the signature Strang would be
sufficient for the girl who, ignorant of the relations of
father and son, would not differentiate between the
signature Richard Strang and Gillespie Strang. The
thing would come out, of course, when the girl reached
Brieston; but by that time the affair would be on the
road to completion, and Gillespie would then point out
that his father was too old to undertake the duties of
trustee. Gillespie chiefly reckoned on the first step,
concerning which he had written a letter, and which if
carried out would put the reins in his hands. He had
thought at first of posting the letter; but two reasons
weighed against this course — if he dispatched it by the
hand of the family servant it would carry more weight,
and the post was uncertain, for they might leave Dunoon
at any time. He had come to the determination of
disposing of Barbara's property in Dunoon. He had
heard that a steamer which was something of a white
elephant to the owners was to be put on the market. Her
boiler had blown out once or twice and was leaking;
freights were low; the debt on the steamer amounted
now almost to as much as she was worth; the owner
would be glad to be rid of her. Gillespie knew she would
be a profitable boat for herring-buying, but was now
afraid of risks at sea, and chary of sinking his own money
in the venture. He would transfer Barbara's capital
in property at Dunoon to this new investment, and in
the letter would give his father's authority for the step.
When the affair came out he reckoned on his father's
scrupulousness for the family name to shield him. Besides,
he had a right to some such action, for his father had
had all the profit out of Iain, and now in Iain's place
was obtaining a housekeeper in the person of Barbara.
The facts which Barbara had to learn were contained in
the letter — that the value of property was depreciating;
that feu duty, rates and taxes and the cost of wear and
tear were becoming onerous; now that she was leaving
Dunoon a factor's percentage would eat away the rents.
On all accounts it would be better to sell the property
on the basis of a twenty years' purchase. This was the
usual thing, and would bring in about a thousand pounds,
which would be invested in a more advantageous way in
Brieston. He impressed on the girl the importance of
mastering these details and laying them before the lawyer
who was to conduct the case. "Thae lawyers are a set of
tinklers," he wrote. In point of fact he furnished these
technicalities to divert any suspicion which the lawyer
might entertain; but on second thoughts he would send
out his own lawyer — a step that would save her trouble
and expense. "Your father spoke to me more than once
as regards this, and my own father at the 'Ghost'
gave me orders to write to ye, as he is too old for a pen,
and I think it is best for all concerned. Your own father
thought this a needcessity, and it is not convenient for
you to have that property in Dunoon when you will be
in Brieston. Topsail Janet will meet ye in Dunoon
and give ye this letter, and you can tell Mr. McAskill
the lawer that he can be looking out for a good buyer
with ready money" — the last two words were underlined.
"We are all enjoying good health, hopping this will find
you all enjoying the same Blessing. My father joins
with me in saying we will do our best for you, investing
your money and settling your affairs. If you will take
my advice settle it at once and don't delay. Hopping
this will find all well,
"Your affectionate friend,
"G. STRANG."
There was no express reference to his wife in the
communication.
"Topsail," he said; "ye hevna had a holiday since
ye cam' into my service."
"Are ye for puttin' me away, Gillespie?" She
stood like a child, looking down at her raw red hands,
waiting for the word which would cast her into the
street. She knew Gillespie's suave way of stabbing
people, and was not so unsophisticated as to believe that
he gave gifts of holidays. Ah! little shop, old sacred
spot, thou wert a roof indeed now; but a shoemaker sits
there driving sparables. She had revisited that shrine
once, with boots to be mended. It was dingy and stank
of leather. Where could she go? Jeck the Traiveller.
No, she would not be unfaithful to the plumber. Her
mind became a grey blank.
"Hae ye the toothache, Janet?"
Cruel jester! she wished she was beside the plumber
beneath the sod.
"I've nae toothache."
"What ails ye, then?"
"I hae neither freen' nor hame to gang to."
"Never mind freend or hame; ye'll gang to Dunoon
the morn for a bit jaunt."
She suddenly swam out of the deep of one emotion
into a greater.
"Oh, I was never on a jaunt a' my days! I don't
ken the wy." The earth was being torn up from its
settled foundations.
"The wy's easy enough; ye'll tak' the steamer the
morn."
"No! no!" She wrung her hands. "An' auld roosty
craw lik' me. What'll become o' the hoose?"
"Huts! the hoose 'ill no' gang oot on the tide for a
day." Gillespie, tolerant so far, now proceeded briskly
to instruct Topsail.
"Ye'll tak' the steamer the morn an' gang to Dunoon
wi' her; dae ye unnerstand?" He spoke slowly, as
teaching a lesson.
"Ay! ay!" she answered out of a nightmare.
"Here, then, tak' this." He handed her the letter and
a slip of paper. On the slip of paper was written:
"Barbara Strang,
27 Clyde Street."
"Show the bit paper to the man at the Pier an' ax
him to direct ye to this hoose" — he tapped the paper
with his forefinger — "an' when ye win there gie this
letter" — another tap with the forefinger — "to Barbara."
"Are ye fo-ollowin' me?"
He repeated his instruction da capo. "There, noo;
dae ye understan'?"
"Am I to be in Dunoon wi' the mistress?"
"Ye are," answered this strange maker of gorgeous
events.
Topsail's face was suffused with joy. She was about
to embark for the Hesperides or the Morning Star.
Though the hour of the steamer's departure was two
o'clock she, after a sleepless night, was up betimes, for
there was a thing which troubled her, concerning which
she wished to consult Gillespie. At seven o'clock she
sat at the parlour window in her bonnet, wearing black
cotton gloves and tenaciously gripping a heavy umbrella,
to which Gillespie was wont to attach himself when he
honoured the dead by attending their obsequies. She
had polished her square-toed boots by candle-light. The
last time she had worn them was when she had ventured
to church. She watched the light steal upon a Harbour
grey as glass; heard on the Quay-road pattering footsteps,
and saw the baker appear with the collar of his jacket
up to his ears. This melancholy man had always a
foreboding that at such a still hour of drawn blinds
there was no money in the town, and all labour of man
was vain. He vanished with hanging head in a close--
mouth. A yellow dog trotted across the Square and
Topsail, vaguely wondering to whom the dog belonged,
sighed:
"It's gey an' gled I'll be this nicht for a sicht o' the
beast." She turned away from the fires of dawn in the
Harbour mouth, and the morning acclamation of sea-fowl
on the skerries and on the net-poles. The adventure
was becoming terribly imminent. She stripped off her
finery, for she had overlooked breakfast; but forgot her
bonnet, on which dust settled in grey clouds as she raked
out the ashes in the grate.
At breakfast she feared to broach her trouble to Gillespie,
and in the interval to the one o'clock dinner wandered
from room to room with a blanched face, and he eyes
constantly riveted upon the clock. At dinner she could
eat nothing.
"What ails ye, wumman?" Gillespie asked, in a far-off
voice.
"Och! och! dinna fash me; this is the greatest trial
since the plumber died. My inside feels fou o' wee
jaggin' preens."
Gillespie appeared to be deaf.
A pathetic look of defiance came into her eyes. "If
I'm gaun to Dunoon" — her voice quavered upon tears —
"I'm gaun respectable."
"Eh! wha-at's that ye're sayin'?"
"I'm a dacent weeda wumman." The agonised
brooding of a fevered night was out; she swayed a little,
feeling faint.
Gillespie looked up critically from among the fish
bones.
"Ye're nane sae ill put on," he said, and resumed his
steady attack on the boiled cod.
"I tell ye, Gillespie, I'm gaun respectable, wi' my
wee black tin box. A'body that's dacent tak's their
luggage. Ye're no' gaun to shove me aff to Dunoon
lik' a moonlicht flittin' wi' naethin' to my name. If my
mither's wee black box doesna go, I'll bide at hame."
She was on the verge of tears.
"Hoots! dinna get intae the nerves, wumman."
"Jeck 'll be here in a meenut or two" — she glanced
at the clock whose dial she could not read — "an' me wi'
noathin' for him to cairry; him that's accustomed to
the pockmanty's o' the nabbery. Nan at Jock an' Mary
Bunch an' Lucky 'll be keekin' doors MacCalman's Lane
to watch me gang across the Square. 'An' there's she's
off,' they'll be sayin', 'off to Dunoon lik' a pookit hen.'
I'll be fair affrontit." She gasped as if for air.
"Where's your box, wumman?"
"It's ablow the bed up the stair."
"What hev' ye in it?"
"Noathin'," answered Topsail wearily, "but a broken
he'rt."
She fled up to the Coffin, and presently returned with
the sacred relic, whose empty interior shone like a
mirror.
"It's gey toom," sneered Gillespie; "ye'll gang fast
on the road wi' an empty kist." He pushed back
his plate and rose to his feet, took some coins from his
pocket, counted them, and gave them, to Topsail.
"There's twa shullin's an' ninepence; that's the price
o' a ticket to Dunoon wi' the steerage; Barbara 'll pey
your fare hame." He kicked the tin box, and said
jocularly:
"Put in your tooth-brush an' your nicht-dress, Janet;
that's what the big fowk cairry."
"I've nane," sighed Topsail, without shame.
Halfway down the stair Gillespie shouted, "It's no'
every day ye gang on a jaunt, Janet. Bide a meenut."
Gillespie returned, a little brown bag in his hand. "Hae,"
he cried, "there's a poke o' black strippit balls for your
box." Topsail solemnly added this contribution to her
treasury. Gillespie completed his instructions and said
it was time she took the road. He could not afford her
threepence for her 'bus-fare to the Pier. She picked up
her box and hastily retreated to the Coffin. She took a
battered book off the brace, and reverently laid it within
the box. It was her mother's Bible. Then glancing
furtively at the door she plunged her hand beneath the
mattress, deftly whipped out a half mutchkin bottle
wrapped in brown paper, and laid it beside the Bible.
"Goäd only kens if she got a drap frae the day she left
home," she whispered to Gillespie's poke of sweeties and
her mother's Bible.
CHAPTER II
ONLY the poor sail from the Quay by luggage steamer,
on which you embark leisurely, picking your way among
sacks of flour, barrels of herring and the like. Sometimes
you slip on the bottle-green causey stones or sprawl
over a rope, and away you go like the boys on a slide
at the Barracks brae. You tell the fishermen where you
are going and why, and joke with the porters — a cosy,
easy, old wife. Once aboard with your little tin box
you find the crew have leisure to gossip, and so keep at
bay all manner of sickness — sea-sickness, home-sickness,
and poverty-sickness. They know everything in Brieston,
as if they were paid to find out — a surprising thing in
men who are always sailing. They tell your astonished
face that some one is always coming and going with bits
of news.
They are putting cattle on board, whose sterns little
boys are flicking with switches. Standing near the
Captain in his pilot jacket you are filled with unholy
joy to see how difficult it is — the boys are yelling; one
of the porters is twisting the tail of the foremost beast,
another is dragging it by a rope round its horns; men
are belabouring it with sticks towards the gangway.
The Captain, very angry, has an enormous silver watch in
his hand. The boat will be fearfully late and she may
take the ground. His face is very red as he swears and
shouts:
"Thresh the coo; twist the bitch's tail; she's as dour
as Lonen' himsel'."
What a hubbub of bleating sheep going away to
the Low Country for the wintering, barking of collies,
bellowing of cattle, yelling of men and boys, and the
shopkeepers in their doors in shirt sleeves watching
the ploy. The horses are the worst. They stand on
their hind legs as if they were at the circus on fair day.
There is nothing for it but to put them in a loose-box
and swing them aboard. They look so funny snorting
up there with terror, their heads against the sky. And
there is Kate the Hawker cursing mankind with her
Irish brogue because one of the porters, pushing a fast
barrow, knocked her down on the top of her crate of hens
which she bought in Islay. It is rich sailing from the
Quay; but just because the Captain never knows when
he can start most people sail from the Pier away down
near the "Ghost." It needs a nerve and genteel clothes
to take steamer there. The thing is to fly down on the
'bus if you have no carriage of your own, and have Jeck
the Traiveller carry your luggage aboard where, in the
twinkling of an eye, you are swallowed up in a crowd
of strangers. The Captain, high up in a glittering place
all alone, would no more think of asking after your health
than he would of swearing or smoking or pulling a rope.
He speaks to a man standing beside a little brass wheel
which you think makes the boat go. And the hands
wear collars, and have some writing across their breasts
on their jerseys. What an awful crowd! and you glued
in the midst on the deck like a limpet on a rock. They
are all gabbing even on and laughing and glowering with
spy-glasses at Brieston, and reading books with covers
like the covers of the red-skin books you sold long ago.
You check a sigh, afraid of its being heard among these
people with such fine clothes. The children play around
you as if you were a post, and you feel yourself in the
way, so that when a skemp in gold and brass buttons
comes up and says, "Ticket, please," you wish you
could sink through the floor. They have no tickets
on the luggage steamer, and are glad to see your half--
crown. All trummlin' you take out the little black purse.
It was a wedding gift. It is battered; the clasp is broken;
it is bound about with thread. Like yourself it is gone
far on the way of life; yet you hold it dear as a regiment
treasures an old rent flag. You try to hide its rags;
nor are you going to show that inside you have a little
photograph of Eoghan taken at the fair, which you
carried away from the Coffin for safety, in case the house
should go on fire while you are absent. The skemp
tells you to walk ever so far down among all those swells
to a box where you may buy a ticket. The floor is so
clean you are ashamed of your big boots. Every one is
staring at you because you have no ticket. You feel
hunted, and stand with your fingers in your bonnet--
strings. Oh, oh, here he comes again! You know
your face is flushed. Shame overwhelms you. The skemp
is in front of you, pulling at a little moustache the colour
of straw. He offers to lead the way. Does he think
you haven't the money? You put up your hand in the
black cotton glove as if to keep off a blow and follow
him, your eyes on the floor, walking as lightly as possible
lest your sparables mark the wood. You bump into a
fat lady all spread out with silk, and look up beseechingly
into gold specs. How she smiles, as if it were her fault!
She must be some princess. You could almost weep for
vexation after that as you dodge the folk. Then you
have to explain about your ticket; you are going to the
mistress and Barbara. The man at the window laughs,
and you tell him no more. You have more pride before
strangers, Goäd be thankit!
You turn to put the ticket in the black tin box, and
suddenly the heavens and the earth become just as black.
You have left it behind in your hurry! What a state of
nerves you are in as you hurry back, your feet going as
fast as your heart, and that goes if anything faster when
you find the box is gone — gone with the black-strippit
balls, and a new silk hanky Jeck slipped into your hand,
and the wee brown paper parcel, and your mother's
Bible. Her name was on it. The tears are in your eyes,
making the water, that is rushing by like a sea in a dream,
and the hills all blurred. Life has suddenly become cruel;
the world very big, very empty; you wish you could die.
"Hullo, Janet, whither bound?"
You fairly jump at that warm, hearty voice, and your
heart jumps too. It is Nan at Jock's son home again from
foreign pairts, dressed like the best of them, with a collar
and white shirt and smoking a cigar. His face is not
white like other folks. He is tall and thin, and his eyes
are looking about as if the boat belonged to him.
"Oh, Jamie! Jamie!" is all you can say, twittering.
The next moment you are telling him all your trouble.
He leads you to a seat, bids you bide there and is gone,
to come back in a minute with one of the men who have
writing on their jerseys. How angry Jamie is as he
speaks to the man! caring not, though you tell him to
wheest, if all the ladies hear. They go off together, and
you see Jamie giving the man a cigar. He comes back
carrying the tin box. How your fingers close round it!
and you nurse it on your knee as once long ago you
nursed Eoghan. The hills are pleasant again; how the
children laugh as they breenge about! and only when
Jamie, carrying the box, leads you down a braw big stair
into the longest room you ever saw in your life do you
begin to get afraid once more. Such a sight of mirrors
and furniture. Gillespie's house is nothing to it: it
will bate the Laird's castle. You don't know how it
comes about, but a wee man in a white shirt has placed
a cup of tea before you and Jamie. You don't know yet
how you managed to drink it; but it did you a world of
good. Jamie is saying he is giving up going foreign,
and has got a second mate's job on the Clyde shipping,
and lucky, too, for there's as many Skye men looking for
jobs as would carry the ships of Clyde on their shoulders.
You don't hear one half he is saying, for you want to
tell him — there it is out — that you are going on a jaunt
to your mistress at Dunoon. But out of pure vexation
you could never have told him had the wee black tin
box been lost.
And when you look at your glove after Jamie has
shaken hands with you at the gangway at Dunoon Pier,
you see a big white five-shilling piece looking up at you
like a flower. Your turn round to thank Jamie, but he
is gone.
CHAPTER III
SHE stood a forlorn figure on the Pier, with her back
to the town, waving to Jamie. She watched his face
growing smaller and vanishing; watched till his handkerchief
vanished also and nothing was left but a gigantic
steamer moving beneath a cloud of smoke. She turned
and faced the town, alone on the threshold of the world.
"What a wecht o' hooses! " she murmured. Lights
were springing up along the sea-front in a bewildering
blaze as she went up the Pier, her bonnet nodding cheerfully
to Dunoon. She had a bunched-up appearance
in her severe black clothes, and felt fatigued, and was
faint from her long fast. The stony gaze of the unknown
town left her sick at heart. Yet it was a smiling face
which accosted the young lady at the turnstile — a face
pathetically small buried in its bonnet.
"Will ye kindly direct me to Barbara's hoose, miss?"
Her bonnet bobbed and curtsied.
"Who is Barbara?" The young lady was petulant;
her figure stiff as a tree. It was tea-time, and the last
steamer gone for the day. She was pulling on a glove.
"She's a freen o' Gillespie's. I cam ee noo wi' the
boat frae Brieston."
"I'm afraid I don't know anything about your friend."
The tone was icily polite. "Twopence, please." The
young lady drummed impatiently on the ledge with
gloved fingers.
"Gillespie told me they wad direct me at the Quay
to Barbara's. I'm to bide there the nicht."
She was coldly, incisively interrupted:
"You have to pay twopence, please."
"Whatna tuppence?"
"To get out."
Light broke in upon Topsail. "Is this a jyle?" she
asked.
The young lady reddened. "If you don't pay you
will be left here all night."
"Och! och! ye needna be sae hasty. Jamie gied me
a croon —"
"Oh, do hurry! I can't wait here all night hearing
about your friends."
Topsail tabled the five-shilling piece with lingering
fingers. The young lady was humming disdainfully.
"Have you no change?"
"That's a' I hae in the world." The bowed face was
concealed beneath the nodding bonnet. "It's a peety
if no' can fin' oot Barbara an' the mistress."
"Sorry," was the tart answer, "I can't help you.
There's your change;" and the little window was slammed
down. Topsail's gaze wandered around helplessly, looking
for an exit; she tapped on the window, but got no
response. Suddenly the light within was extinguished.
A step was heard outside and Topsail saw the form of
the girl walking away from her.
"Dinna leave me here!" she cried; "I canna win oot."
Something frail and wizened in the older woman's
appearance moved the girl to compunction and she
retraced her steps. "Push!" she commanded, and at
the same time pulled the turnstile. Topsail was amazed
to find herself slowly wheeling out to freedom. "This
whutteruck o' a whirlmaleerie's like Lonend's mill-wheel."
The girl's equanimity being restored, she suggested that
Topsail should apply to the police for information.
Topsail, searching her pockets, discovered that she had
left behind her the slip of paper with Barbara's name
and address. Gillespie's excessive caution had prevented
him from addressing the envelope containing the letter
destined for Barbara. The girl, whose patience had given
out during the search, was disgusted with such stupid
provincialism, and, saying good-night, rapidly walked
away. A thin grey rain began to fall. Topsail drew
in to a street lamp and searched her black box. It
contained no paper of Gillespie's. She felt weary and
old and afraid of homelessness as she began to walk
down the street. Dishevelled and rain-draggled, she
presented a drunken appearance. She met a man who
turned his head to look at her as she passed; then two
girls in macintoshes who giggled as they hurried by.
There was a gnawing in the pit of her stomach. The
noise of the waves breaking on the shore in the dark
scared her. Her feet were dragging heavily. She moved
off the road, put her box on the ground, and sank upon
it. It buckled beneath her weight. The rain became
heavier. She closed her eyes and began to shiver. She
was feeling light in the head. A tag of an old nursing--
song occurred to her; the words involuntarily forming
themselves in her brain to the swing of the sea. She
had repeated the first two lines:
"Oh, love it is pleasin',
Love! it is teasin',"
when she heard a shriek out in the night. It was a
liner's siren. She jumped to her feet, snatched up her
box and scurried along the street. Presently another
street opened on the left where a bright light shone
in a large window, and reminded her of Gillespie's shop.
It was a baker's. When she entered she saw a man with
a white beard behind the counter, and thought he was
like Lonend's billy-goat looking over a hedge. She
undid the black thread on her purse and poured her
money on the counter.
"I'll be obleeged to ye for a scone."
The billy-goat gave her a large milk-scone and asking
for twopence put out a plump white hand for the money,
and observed it was a wet night.
"Ay! I've got a drookin'," she answered. The smell
of the hot scone made her faint, and she began to eat
ravenously. The baker, eyeing her, asked if she had
come far. "Yes, from Brieston. I've been stravaigin'
the toon the last 'oor lookin' for Barbara an' the mistress."
The billy-goat baker, a benevolent man, was touched,
and soon had from Topsail her miserable story. He
invited her up to "the missis" — a little elderly woman
with a round, merry face and an abundance of soft
brown hair. She was darning, and wore spectacles. The
baker informed her of Topsail's plight. He desired to
shelter Topsail for the night, but was timid in suggesting
this to his wife. "The poor wumman canna go back
to the street a night like this, Erchie." He nodded,
with an expression on his face which conveyed " of
course, I know that."
"Dinna stand glowerin' there. Put on the kettle an'
go back to the shop before it'll be robbit." The baker
ceased nursing his magnificent beard and became active.
His wife waddled with solicitude about the kitchen. As
she laid out cups and saucers it occurred to her that
the stranger was wet. She must change. Topsail hung
her head, and confessed that the box contained her
mother's Bible.
The baker, having shut his shop, sat down at the head
of the table, his stiff beard over his tea-cup, and said
grace. Blind man! he did not notice that the meagre
stranger was swamped in an amplitude of skirt. Topsail
praised the scones. "Ye maun gie me the recate for
thae scones, Erchie," she said. Erchie, forsooth!
What else would she call him? and you may be sure
Erchie promised. If there was a better flute player in
the wet length and soaked breadth of Dunoon that night
I should like to have heard him. Erchie sat in the low
wicker armchair, unslippered and in socks with pink
stripes, tootling away on a wee hole lost in the beautiful
white beard, till the room rang like a wood on a summer's
morning. Topsail commended him in no uncertain way:
"Man, man, Erchie! ye're the braw hand ca'in'
awa' at the f'ute! I canna keep my feet stiddy for a
meenut. Just you wait till I win hame an' get started
on a pair o' warm socks for ye for the winter." Topsail
was thoroughly happy, for she had conceived a new
work, of charity; yet sorrow came upon her for the
flautist evoked a poignant memory. She thought on
the dead Iain and his music. "It minds me o' poor
Iain that's deid an' gone."
"Who was Iain?" asked the baker's wife, and as
Topsail told the sad story light came to the brain of the
musician.
"Did ye say that the name was Strang?"
"Ay," Topsail nodded.
"It'll be Strang's Land ye're wantin' — Barbara Strang."
Topsail nodded again; her eyes shone.
"Is that no' great?" ejaculated the baker; "we found
her out wi' the flute."
To Topsail's amazement the next morning she found
Mr. McAskill with Barbara and her mistress, and he at
once asked for the letter, which Topsail handed over to
the girl. During the time Barbara was reading it the
lawyer invited the baker into another room; told him
that Miss Strang was removing to Brieston; that Mr.
Strang, her guardian there, was anxious to dispose of her
property in Dunoon, and he, the lawyer, would be under
an obligation if the baker could give him the names of
any likely purchasers in the town. Mr. Strang did not
want any publicity in the matter. The baker pondered,
looking down the line of his beard, and saying he would
consult his wife, arranged to meet the lawyer on that
evening at Miss Strang's house.
McAskill, secretly anxious to have the way clear,
postponed the meeting with the baker till the following
evening, dismissed him, and then informed the ladies
that there was no necessity for them to delay longer
in Dunoon. Miss Strang could make her preparations
to-day, with Topsail's assistance, and leave for Brieston
to-morrow morning. He asked Miss Strang for Gillespie's
letter, because he must show his authority for effecting
the sale of the property. McAskill's eyes gleamed upon
the letter as his hawk-like hand closed over documentary
evidence of felony. Topsail, on her departure, asked
McAskill to remember and get from Erchie the receipt
for the scones. A smile hovered over the thin, compressed
lips of the lawyer as he promised to attend to
the matter.
CHAPTER IV
TOPSAIL JANET was at her wits' end. Her mistress
was going from bad to worse, and there was a nameless
fear upon the house. Once or twice she found a man
lurking about the close at night. Jeck the Traiveller
had hinted that such on-goings were the talk of the town,
and that her mistress was too often in the Back Street
among scum, with that Galbraith woman who was to
marry Lonend at the New Year. A bonnie stepmother
indeed! Topsail took the news with disquieting silence.
She was thinking of Eoghan, who seemed to live in the
"Ghost" now and had a grey, hunted look on his face,
and had become very thin — the stamp of soul-famine.
Topsail commended mother and son to God as she
listened to the stump, stump of her departing lover,
and turned her eyes to the ancient lights of the sky in
whose august processional march to-night she found
no balm. Trouble brooded upon the house of Gillespie.
She could not fathom all that was going on, nor find
armour against this stealthy danger. She crawled to
the Coffin loaded with anxiety. Since her return from
Dunoon she had had very little sleep, because her mistress
was often late, and Topsail would pace the floor of the
Coffin in her stocking soles, one ear alert for her mistress
on the stair, the other for sounds from Eoghan's room.
As soon as the step was heard on the outside stair she
was down to the kitchen, cautioning her mistress to
silence and assisting her to the Coffin. Her mistress
was querulous and rude on these occasions. but Topsail
took no affront as she swiftly undressed her and put
her to bed. Gillespie had long ago discovered this
retreat and was without concern at the absence of his
partner from his side. Once in the morning he had said
to Topsail, letting the cat out of the bag, "Stravaigin'
as usual; some night she'll walk over the breist wa'
into the Hairbour — a good riddance."
Topsail became stupid for want of sleep, and did not
manage to get through her work. No one appeared to
take any notice. Gillespie frequently had his meals in
his office. The kitchen became slovenly and Topsail
troubled at first; then became resigned. The apathy of
her mistress had fallen upon her, entangling her in its
mesh.
"A' thing's tapsalteerie in the hoose," she complained
to the Traiveller, who put a timid hand on her sleeve.
"Janet," he said hoarsely, "will ye no' come home to
my mother's? She's gettin' blin'. I'm doin' noane sae
bad noo at the Quay." He had a large barrow now which
helped him greatly with the luggage, and was earning a
steady seven-and-sixpence a week for "catchin' the
steamer's lines at the Quay an' the Pier," and for tending
the gangways. "The auld ane's no' fit for work."
Topsail withdrew from his touch not unkindly.
"Ye're a good man, Jeck; but I winna leave the
missis ee noo for a widger." Such are the intuitions
and promptings of the heart of man that Jeck stumped
home strangely elated, feeling the hard, raw hand of
this woman yet warm within his own.
Topsail's mind was numb as she gazed at the vivid
veins standing up on the neck of her mistress, who was
watching the cats sporting themselves on the slates of
the washing-house. Mrs. Strang was become an automaton
of appetite, frozen by her husband's negligence to
a sphinx whose lustreless eyes looked out with appalling
apathy upon the desert of life. She had sought elsewhere
what had been legitimately denied to her passion;
and now passion degraded to debauchery was revenging
itself mercilessly upon her, and she succumbed, a tragic
figure played upon by the wiles and beaten upon by the
rage of men. She had at first found easy access to the
slaking of desire through the house of Mrs. Galbraith,
when she found messages from Mr. Campion left for her
there. He had been introduced at Lonend to Mrs.
Galbraith, who admired him for his intellectual ability,
and hoped that he might yet turn out a poet. It did
not take her very long to discover from Mrs. Strang that
some sort of intimacy existed betwixt Mr. Campion and
Gillespie's wife. Mrs. Galbraith, estimating that on the
burning of his fleet Gillespie's fall was imminent, was
almost in despair at his wiry prosperity. Memories of
her lost husband and home provoking her, she nursed
her hatred and atrophied her conscience. She was about
to contract a distasteful union with Lonend, hoping that
in this way she would find fresh opportunity to trouble
Gillespie. In the meanwhile she would strike at him
through the infamy of his wife. The better sort would
soon give the cold shoulder to a man whose wife was not
only a common prostitute, but who had been driven
to those vile courses through her husband's cruelty.
Mrs. Galbraith had no compunction for Lonend, and did
not disguise from herself the fact that he had had a chief
hand in evicting her from Muirhead. She betrayed as
little compunction for a woman who had, she was convinced,
already committed herself with the new schoolmaster.
Remorse seized her sometimes at night; but
before the puling face of remorse she conjured up the
grey, dead face of her husband, strong in its compulsion,
from the unsleeping grave.
Topsail Janet paid her a furtive visit on one of those
rare evenings when Gillespie was at supper at the Banker's.
He was chagrined to find himself attacked there by Mr.
Kennedy on the subject of Eoghan, whom Gillespie
designed for the receipt of custom at the Pier; but much
to his mortification the Laird had refused to rent the
Pier, and installed there one of his own men. Mr. Kennedy
observed that Eoghan was unfit for manual work and
had talent; he was getting on in years and time was
passing. Gillespie admitted so much, but objected to
the cost of a University education.
"Money is nothing; your son's happiness everything."
"Noathin'!" — Gillespie glanced slyly at the Banker —
"maybe ye leeve on the wun'. I hevna come across
anything in the world that'll bate it."
"Money is tyranny; and tyranny is impotence."
"It's a minister ye should be, Mr. Kennedy." This
jest masked the rage in his heart, for he felt he was
being trapped in public.
"Make your son one. Ministers are the true aristocrats
of the earth;" and Mr. Kennedy promised to coach
Eoghan for the preliminary examination.
Gillespie sneered openly. "Thon's an expense — playin'
the cairds wi' young swells an' boozin' in the theeayters."
He had heard of such University wildness. "The jib
halyard wad soon be blown oot o' the pin at thon rate."
Such talk was typical of Gillespie now. The pessimism
of age was finding him out. He was constantly whining,
and had become lachrymose. His money was engaged in
dubious enterprises; he made no secret of the drain his
wife was upon him; she made money go like snow off
a dyke. He could hardly sell a barrel of salt herring
now-a-days — him that had sent thousands to Rooshia.
Even the Banker was bored, and changed the subject by
asking his frivolous wife to play some music. The clatter
of the piano drowned Gillespie's querulous boom.
Topsail heard this rattle and tinkle as she crept through
MacCalman's Lane to visit Mrs. Galbraith, to whom she
signified by a gesture of unutterable weariness all her
misery. Mrs. Galbraith easily pumped her, and was
enraged to discover the stoicism of Gillespie.
"Nothing but the wrath of God will break his heart,"
she said in such a fierce tone that it scared Topsail, who
was profoundly amazed. She thought that all people
were glad to remain at peace, so long as they had a roof
and got a bite. She offered to help Mrs. Galbraith against
Gillespie so long as her mistress was safeguarded, and
pleaded that Mrs. Galbraith would deny her house to the
mistress. It was the futile challenge of unsophisticated
innocence to sin. Mrs. Galbraith, sane enough not to
be angry with Topsail, saw that this simple mind might
easily become the still, small voice that is louder than
thunder, and soothed Topsail's fears, assuring her that
Jeck the Traiveller was absolutely wrong, and that her
mistress came to no harm in the Back Street. In a
sudden flash of inspiration she advised Topsail to inform
Eoghan of her suspicions concerning the men who haunted
Gillespie's close. Topsail trembled at the idea, and shook
in all her body. She was afraid of this woman, and
intuitively felt herself in the presence of danger. Drawing
her dark-green shawl over her head, she slipped out, a
defeated angel. She presented a piteous spectacle as
she scurried in the shadow of the low thatched houses,
tripping and stumbling over the causey-stones, and
fluttered like a lapwing across the lit Square. Terrible
in God's sight are the tears of a defeated angel.
CHAPTER V
"AM I not a terrific swell, grandad?" Barbara shouted
merrily, tears of laughter running down her cheeks.
"Listen to the shoes creaking; they're crying out that
they are on loan." Her incongruous dress accentuated
her beauty. Miss Barbara Strang was some twenty--
three years old. Her figure was tapering, firm, and trim.
She had a fine poise and grace of head, which was covered
with a cloud of soft brown hair; and a column-like
magnificence of neck. Her present attire brought out
the bold curves of her hips. Her brown eyes were
swimming in liquid laughter as Eoghan gazed from the
threshold, conscious of a flower-fragrance in her face
and fire upon her parted lips. His grandfather, leaning
back in the old-fashioned armchair with the high,
carved wooden back, was purring in laughter. He wore
his silver chain in his oxter. The girl was dressed in a
tartan shawl whose fringes came to the knee. Between
the top of her stocking and the fringe of the shawl was
a span of white leg. Rabbit skins were wrapped about
her boots; a piece of white rug hung from her middle
as a sporran; inside the rope which girt this sporran to
her person was a bread-knife, and projecting from the
top of the stocking his eye caught the handle of another
knife — the skene dhu. She was holding a tile hat in her
hand, and as he watched her glowing face she put up
her leg on the whitewashed jamb of the fireplace, made
a bow to the old man, and said with a mimicking simper,
"How d'ye like a kiltie for a lass, grandad?" The old
man's expression, changing from merriment to recognition,
made her suddenly wheel like a startled fawn. With an
exclamation of horror she jerked down her leg, dropped
the tile hat, and stooping, with the shawl fringe held over
her knees, ran past Eoghan and bounded up the stair.
He got one glimpse of wild, shy eyes lit with mischief
and horrified with shame, and in that fleeting look his
heart descended to infinite depths, and the next moment
swam up to the surface drenched in love.
"Is she no' the diversion?" his grandfather was saying.
"She made me put away the Bible and dressed me."
His eye sought the silver chain apologetically. "She
was curling my hair before you came in."
Eoghan made no answer except to ask if she was Rob's
daughter. The "Ghost" had become wondrously festal
and young. He was about to ask how the caper of the
kilt had come about when he heard her descend the
stair. She entered with drooping eyes and suffused face,
approached him slowly and, smiling faintly, held out her
hand. "How do you do?" she asked. He rose from
his seat, shook hands, and sat down in confusion. She
thought him brusque and rude, and turning, addressed
to the old man a question about the Castle overlooking
the Harbour which she had seen from the steamer's deck.
Eoghan stole a furtive look. She wore a low broad white
collar over the neck of a black silk blouse. She had
something of the Quakeress in her appearance. Her
attitude breathed purity and innocence. His gaze
rested on her face as upon a happy home. She had fine
brown eyes; there was a light on her brow, a white star
on her forehead. The old man nodded across the hearth.
"Eoghan there 'll tell ye; he's a scholar."
Eoghan had a speaking eye, a compelling force of
countenance when his emotions were aroused, and his eye
fell burning upon the girl as she turned. She slipped her
fingers inside the low wide collar, ran them round till
they met on her throat, and then, smoothing the fringes
of the collar on her breast with a white, rather fragile,
hand, vividly blue-veined, swept over Eoghan's face a
quick, dewy look. Immediately he began to pour out
the history of the Castle. Her lips were parted; her eyes
now lustrous, now wide, as she listened. They brimmed
over with laughter as he told the story of the key of
the dungeon where the Bruce once locked in his English
prisoners. The Bent Preen came one day to Gillespie
and displayed to him a ponderous key about a foot in
length, alleging that he had discovered it in the dungeon
of the Castle. Gillespie bought the treasure-trove for
a shilling, and made conspicuous display of the antique
in his shop window. On a placard was printed, "The
Key of King Robert the Bruce's dungeon." It attracted
crowds, who were convulsed with laughter, for the Bent
Preen had let out the secret. The key was part of the
scrap-iron gathered by the Fox in his country journeys,
and was discovered by the Bent Preen lying on the heap
at the Quay, waiting for the luggage steamer. Eoghan
was glad that he had made her laugh so merrily. She
asked if it was true that he was going to College. His
heart leapt within him — she must have been talking
about him. His volatile spirit rose like a flame. Yes;
in three weeks' time. And what was he going to be?
"A minister," the old man piped out. Oh! oh! she
would be afraid of him then, and confessed she had made
grandad stop reading his Bible to watch her pranks.
She stopped suddenly and blushed furiously, and put her
hands lightly behind her back. This gave her figure a
willowy, supple appearance. Himself confused and his
heart beating tumultuously he offered to show her the
Castle, where he had played truant as a boy, hiding in
the Douglas dining-room.
His sleep was broken that night with dreams of a
peerless presence, whose radiance stood out sharply
against the background of his mother's life. In his
sleep her face floated before him, hovering, a vision of
light, upon a wilderness. It was a holy harbour for his
misery. Her soul was the guest of heaven. When he
awoke in the morning the rain was whispering on the
window-pane. The sound of her voice returned singing
the haunting Gaelic air of last night. It mingled with
the voice of the rain in the fragrance of the wet dayspring;
it bridged the years of heartache and weariness, and led
him into a valley of dreams. The melody was a gladness
dripping out of her being upon him in balm. He was
perhaps, never so happy as on that morning. Again he
heard the song; again saw the light upon her brow; her
eyes like a deer's, soft and limpid with gentle fire. She
had had a red rose in the cleft of her breasts. Last
night, as he had watched its rise and fall, its scent mingled
with the frankincense of her hair.
Day followed day, bringing to him the torture and
secret joy of love. One day he saw her in Harbour Street;
watched the swing of her lithe figure, the flutter of her
dress till she disappeared beyond the police station.
Something ineffable went with her; and when she faded
off the street he saw nothing but dreariness, backed by
grey cold hills and a sullen sea. A golden light had
vanished across bald Brieston. He rarely spoke to her.
When he did address her, things of the least significance
became enlarged. He was under a spell in her presence,
and his heart would leap up when she spoke to him even
casually. He felt his answers flat, his language stupid.
On the other hand, he remembered her words and phrases
which would recur to him involuntarily and at the
strangest times. He wrote secret verses. His first
effort was to paint in words the meshed sunlight in her
hair. He used the most stilted epithets — cherry lips,
snowy neck, and the like. Once or twice he felt he began
well with a line or even a couplet, but could go no farther
— as on the occasion when he sang of a gold cross which
she wore suspended by a thin gold chain around her
neck. His emotions were beating as with manacled
hands against an adamantine wall of expression, out of
which he could not carve the fine jewels of words. But
he found a lively pleasure in being thus to himself a
pedlar of dreams.
He was troubled at the swiftness with which the days
passed. He had shown her West Loch Brieston and its
glen, the vista of the Loch beyond Muirhead Farm, and
that terrible shore beyond the "Ghost" where Iain had
been drowned. The tears welled in her eyes, and she put
her hand in his as with the appeal of a child. The timid
fragility of her face took his heart by storm. They walked
home to the "Ghost" hand in hand in silence, their full
hearts beating against each other, and unutterable yearning
stirring in the dusk as with angels' wings, and weaving
around them a holy spell. On that night Barbara discovered
that the thought of him had been constantly
with her, lying upon her heart like a dew-drop on the
petal of a flower, and waiting for the dawn to open the
flower. Noiselessly like dew he had slipped in, and she
found him seated in the heart of her being she knew not
how.
The following day he took her to the Castle. They
had come up from wandering idly in the aisles of derelict
ships upon the beach, where in this sea-cathedral each
had dreamed of love, and in which Eoghan had felt blow
upon him that spirit of our youth which breaks in with
its haunting face upon the sudden clear window of
consciousness. The savour of reaped things was in the
air. Schoolboys tramped in from the country laden with
brambles and pillow-slips full of nuts, and gave to the
town an atmosphere of mellow things. The sight of
all this saddened Eoghan, because it recalled Iain, with
whose loss was mingled a sense of the pitiableness of
his mother's life. He sat plucking mournfully at the
grass beneath the Castle wall.
"What's wrong, Eoghan?" she asked tenderly.
He said that the beauty of the autumn evening cast
a spell of sadness upon him; it brought back Iain and old
nutting days.
"Is there not sadness at the heart of everything,
Eoghan? I think, when I look at grandad's eyes, that
life is built upon sorrow." His hand sought hers, and
held it. "I remember a friend of mine in Dunoon telling
me of the feeling she had when she sent her wee boy
to school. In her dreams she used to hear him con his
lessons."
"What of it?" he asked.
"I don't understand it quite, but I think I know.
She told me it gave her heartache. It was the beginning
of the weary struggle in life in which the mother can't
help."
"In so young a thing!" he answered bitterly. "If
this is the way from the beginning, is God not playing
with us?" He felt a sense of shame as soon as he had
spoken. He was a traitor to Mr. Kennedy, and added
hurriedly that he must introduce her to that silver old
man.
"No," she said earnestly, ignoring his offer. "He
is not playing with us. Grandad says it is because He
has a big reward in store for us." Her eyes shone.
"Ah, Barbara!" — he caressed her hand — "I believe
you."
"But don't you believe more than me, Eoghan, dear?"
He thrilled at the evangelist's endearing word.
"I can't say." The moment's mood of despondence
left his face. "God chooses the beautiful and the good
for His revelation." Reverently he kissed her hand.
Nearer and nearer those two souls were drawing, as out
of a vast deep. Their eyes rested tenderly upon each
other; they ceased speaking; their lips smiled. The
evening smoke hung in the windless air upon the roofs of
the town below, and on the Muirhead road across the
Harbour the telegraph wires ran like gold in the evening
light. A sound of larks behind them in the south-west
fell in a cascade of song. The bleating of flocks died
away on the hill. It aroused to a sudden enraptured
thrill a single bird, whose melody mingled with the
'plaining of faint shore-water, and the lowing of homeward
cattle in Muirhead across the Harbour.
"How quiet and serene it is!" she murmured. She
felt herself in a house not made with hands. By mental
telepathy this feeling was dimly conveyed to him. He
leaned towards her, gazing deeply into the darkening
wells of her eyes.
"I love you, Barbara." Again the old sensation
rushed over him that he was speaking out of a far dream
with a voice not his own, as on the night when he told
his father that Iain was drowned. Her face swam up
before him, inexpressibly precious. Hands tender and
compelling out of that dreamland were upon him, and
he put out his arms, gathered her to himself, and kissed
her upturned mouth again and again. From his eyelids
he saw the down glimmering on her cheek and neck, and,
leaning down, kissed her neck beneath the chin-bone.
She answered with a crooning sound and an upward
look full of incommunicable tenderness — the look of one
who has found a pillow and peace after long wayfaring.
Aloft in the grey church on the hill a liquid bell rang
the hour. The booming sounds were young as with the
vigour of new love. High up in the still evening air
the sound carolled, pealing its long lin-lan-lone, drifting
over the roofs to the old grey Castle like angels' feathers
falling upon them, celestial snowflakes drifting down in
soothing waves of rest. Its pulsing in unison with his
heart seemed to stir her hair and weave a fragrance about
her. His mind became tinged with sadness; he heard
the music whispering to him. "Oh, sea-bells of magic
foam; Oh, land-bells of golden dreams, how often have
you called to me with the tongue of a young twilight
spirit, speaking across the sorrow and the lost effort
and the illusion of the years, mysterious, yet familiar,
burdened with the beatitude and the grief of love. Is
there not sadness at the heart of everything? Ring on,
ring on for ever, lest the magic fade and the dream-light
die, and the sorrow come …." The last lullaby note
melted away in the darkening sky, dying, as if love
were bleeding out its life and the drops were falling,
falling …. Her face was childishly wan and small
against his shoulder; her gaze dumb upon his face.
She seemed about to cry; her lips quivered and trembled.
He tightened his clasp about her in an anguish of solicitude,
and she nestled, lamb-like. The birds flitted to their
nests in the ivy of the Castle; silence flowed down like
a grey river; the two heads leaned to each other; the
faces caressed each other; the two mouths met in a
lingering kiss; and the silent music of love beat around
them as from white birds singing in their breasts. She
looked up smiling with bedewed eyes.
"The pain has gone from your eyes, dear," she whispered
like a mother, and the maternal note nigh broke
his heart. Hand in hand they arose. Eastward above
them towered the looming masonry, its huge black bulk
silhouetted against the moon-whitened sky. In the west
the church spire soared over Brieston, and was pricked
out needle-wise against a clear background of amber.
Beneath the first faint stars they walked across the
reaped fields, the multitudinous wings of silver-grey doves
brooding around them. And out of the dungeon and
the Douglas dining-room her heart was crying, the old,
old baby brownies and little folk were stealing to play
their pranks in the moon and dance upon the green grass
where they had been sitting. He was chanting:
"Far away beyond the sunset skies,
Where the true love never, never dies …"
She looked up timidly. His eyes were fixed on the deep
crepuscular west with a rapt look. The peace of that
over-arching immensity of colour had entered his soul,
dissipating the fever of life. From the height of a glowing
third heaven he was gazing down at life's turmoil, its
sadness, its darkness, its evil. Suddenly he turned and
looked back at the lofty bastioned wall dark against
the sky. It endured. Its makers had gone empty--
handed into the unknown.
"Barbara, what is the meaning of life?" he asked, in a
mournful tone.
"To love and be loved," she replied, with glad quickness.
The answer cleared his troubled mind. Had there
been love and to spare those fire-blackened walls behind
had never been built. The fibre of his spirit responded
to the eternal truth of the answer, and the girl saw tears
in the corners of his eyes. Her look became a gaze of
worship.
She wanted her grandfather to know that she was loved;
yet for to-night she would cherish her secret as a peculiar
treasure in the recesses of her heart. When she dismissed
Eoghan at the door of the "Ghost" he strode along
as if walking on air. The salt and pungency of happy
youth rioted in his veins; the touch of her hand was
tingling in his palm; the tones of her voice flowed about
him in enveloping sweetness. He felt infinite power
seething through him. The leaves of the trees beyond
the "Ghost" on the burn-side were tossed up in fevered
drifts of vague magnificence in the night wind, and fell
with a jibbering sound on the decks of the derelicts lying
on the beach beneath the "Ghost." To him they were
fingers of commiseration touching the broken binnacles,
as the delicate fingers of a loving woman would rest
upon the blind eyes of her lover. This multitudinous
gold spread enfolding wings across the shattered decks
which shall no more go out beneath the steering stars.
The villas on the beach-road stood out white and sharp
in the moon, and over them the leaves whirled in joyous
mad mirth. He saw the gables and roofs climb up in
the dim whiteness to a bacchic place in the clouds. A
cathedral, vast and dim, took the air amidst chiming
bells and a dream-drift of burnished leaves. Beneath
his feet the fret of leaves was like the motion of the
wounded feet of naked children shuffling along trailing
blood. But what was that to him? His blood was a
flood of fire. He ground his heels into the road as he
danced along, swung his arms tempestuously, and had
to throttle a mad desire to shout aloud. He brought
down his fist upon the door of a wooden shed, exulting
in the pain, and clenched his hands till the hot blood
was about to ooze from his finger-nails. He laughed
exultingly, and flung wide his arms to enclose her in a
deathless embrace. A man passed him. He ground his
teeth. "Fool, fool; I wonder if he heard." He walked
forward vehemently, and as he careered through the
Square he thought: "It is great, great; what a girl!
what love!" and so stormed home on the crest of a
fiercely-rushing wave, thinking of how he had taken her
face between his hands, peered down into her eyes, and
kissed her on the mouth.
Hitherto when Barbara awoke in the morning she
remembered her sense of dependence, and that she was
an orphan. Now when she opened her eyes comfort
came to her with the sun, as she brought forth the jewel
of her love from its casket. She subscribed to the public
library, and read the love poems of the English language.
"On such a night . . ." she rolled the witching words
on her tongue. In church she surreptitiously read the
Song of Solomon, while overhead Stuart denounced
sins of omission and commission; and the face of her
lover floated before her. She lay on the burn-side at the
"Ghost" on sunny days waiting for Eoghan, and watching
the placid sea from her eyelids as she wandered into a
lotus land rich with humming hives of Hibyla honey.
He and she were content, and held the world as content
along with them. Steeped in their new rapture, their
eyes raining happiness on each other, they saw naught
else, saw not that his mother was sinking deeper into her
shadowland. Each of them, mother and lovers, clutched
at shadows, strove at the bolts of the doors behind which
lay the glory of life — that dim, grey Never-Neverland
whose guardian doors so many stain with the blood of
their heart.
It was two days before he was to leave for Glasgow
to sit at the entrance examination to the University. She
stood in the door of the "Ghost," her hair blown upon
her forehead, and watched him disappear up the road.
Presently she entered the kitchen, her cheeks glowing
from the frosty air. The old man was seated in the big
chair at the fire, half sunk in the gloom and dancing
shadows.
"Grandad!"
"Is that you, m'eudail?" He roused himself from his
reverie.
She stepped over to him, taking off her hat.
"Have you been lonely?"
"No, mo chdridhe." He had picked up those Gaelic
phrases of tenderness and pronounced them with a
Lowland accent. She sat down on the edge of the chair,
her fingers playing nervously with her hat. The old man
roused himself.
"Hae ye been up by?"
"No, grandad, I've been with Eoghan;" and suddenly
she put her arms round his neck.
"Oh, grandad, I'm so very, very glad you brought
me here! I — I want to tell you," she stammered, "to
tell you I love you so. He — he kissed me —" She
buried her cheek in the thick, dark, curly hair of his head.
Reticence between them was at an end. For a long
minute there was silence, broken only by the wheeze
of the sign without. Then he spoke in a prayer:
"The lovingkindness of the Lord is very great."
The girl was inexpressibly touched. Youth the heritor
of life and age the bequeather sat united. A profound
sigh rose through the deepening shadows. Who was it
from — age or youth; age which remembers, and whose
old distresses, lying like dry tinder, flare up at the spark
of the kinship of joy and sorrow which a word can bring
to birth; or youth, the flood of whose ripe experiences
disarms the pangs of yesterday, and makes it tremble
before the haunting possibilities of to-morrow? The
sigh that is born in the shadows — is it from age or from
youth? The girl rose hurriedly and lit the lamp in the
window.
CHAPTER VI
EOGHAN refused to go into the shop though his father
cajoled: "Ye'll hae the business some day."
"I would not take it though it was a hundred times
as valuable."
This blow paralysed Gillespie, who imagined his son
was bewitched by that snuff-taking dotard the schoolmaster.
Gillespie, having reached that period in life
when men of property or affairs consider the making of
their will, was agitated by vague fears. What would
become of his business when he died? He lashed out at
an elusiveness which baffled him. Had he founded a
house after all upon sand? The dupe of a subtlety which
ensnared him, he went to consult his wife, whom he found
dovering at the fire, her eyes deep with melancholy, and
eased his wrath by arraigning her on the sole evidence
of an empty glass.
"It's no' enough appearingly that you spend the siller
boozin' your eyes blin'; but here's Eoghan noo wantin'
to go to Coallege, an' him ready to step into the business."
Her hands wandered aimlessly over her lap. "I'm
a weary wife; a weary, weary wife. I was in the College
in Edinbro'; but noo I've a deep, deep water to wade."
"Muckle good the College did ye," sneered Gillespie;
"ye can neither gang to kirk or mercat noo;" and he
flung out of the kitchen, imagining that his wife was in
the conspiracy to baulk him. There was only one way
to keep his face with his son, and that was to let him go.
"You an' me, Eoghan, hae to redd up things a wee,"
he said, and thrust some gold into his son's hands. "Tak'
guid care o' the bawbees," he cried jocularly, but with a
twinge at the heart.
Eoghan gazed on the sovereigns glittering in his palm.
"What's this for?"
"It's for your collegin'."
"I thought you refused to let me go."
"Huts!" he cried, "your daft mither's fair set on
havin' her son College bred."
Even to a soul-hardened Scotsman College is a land
of wonder and romance, and Gillespie had his own quiet
pride in the venture. Eoghan, however, thinking of
his mother, hoped that his College career would stimulate
her interest anew in life. She was failing in health, was
lack-lustre and dispirited; she let things drift, and had a
passion for wandering about the house, aimlessly rummaging
among things of old time, whose history she
would recite with infinite repetitions in a half-maudlin
way, weeping over treasures brought from Lonend,
especially faded photographs of the dead, some of whom
she imagined to be alive. The furniture of the parlour
was that of her wedding-day, and she recalled her glory
as a bride, and peopled the room with the faces that had
been there. She would ramble on, talking loosely and
vaguely, beginning a remark and finishing in the middle
of a half-expressed idea. Eoghan pored on her expressionless
face, which to him was like a worn effigy on a coin.
Her aimless hand at her hair accentuated her listlessness
to an intolerable degree. If his departure for College
would deepen her interest in life, that in itself would be
sufficient to drive him as with whips to the University.
A wild hope seized him that here, perhaps, the doors of
redemption would open. She would not dishonour her
College-bred son. Mr. Kennedy had advised him in
one or two ways. "You must find the money for her
yourself; bring her in the stuff if need be, and keep her
at home." At home! was she not always at home?
Alas! the eyes that looked on Barbara saw naught else.
But Mr. Kennedy was mad to advise him so. Instead,
he watched to rob her, and every chance copper he picked
up. He had now about a pound and did not know what
to do with the hoard. "It will soon amount to thirty
pieces of silver," he thought sadly. A torrent of wild
words burst out of him as he told Mr. Kennedy of the
money. He had been brought into the world without
being questioned; had he not the right to save himself
from this shameful connection by going to one of the
colonies? "But what can you do there? you have neither
trade nor profession, and you are unfit for the hard manual
labour of these parts." And Eoghan, cursed with an
unbalanced imagination, saw himself creep up from the
foreign quays into vast streets of stone, full of strange
faces — pitched headlong into the roaring wheels of
modern civilisation with its cynicism and selfishness.
It was a dreary fatality. He saw himself an unimportant
speck tossed about for a little, his pride congealed into
pain. If he escaped his environment, could he escape
the shame? That was indestructible, and would become
gigantic on a foreign soil. "I here, and she there, the
greater castaway;" and with shame rigged as a dogged
pack upon his back, his mournful face would vanish
in the sea of isolation, and the chariot-wheels of life
would roar over the head of a wanderer irrecoverably
lost.
"Never cast a woman over; if you fall, fall together."
The eyes of the schoolmaster looked out upon him, eyes
of hungry sorrow, transfigured in that moment by the
tenderness of forty silent years of soul famine. Eoghan
felt he was in the presence of another sufferer; and born
of the whirlwind and the furnace of grief came the note
of purging pain and expiatory wisdom. "If you fall,
fall together." But the schoolmaster had perhaps been at
fault. Eoghan's mother certainly was; and he answered
sullenly, "I have done nothing wrong." The sword of
justice was in his hand, facing foursquare to guard the
Eden of his life; but with the schoolmaster's eyes upon
him the sword wheeled upon himself, lambent with wrath.
Beneath those penetrating eyes he felt he was making
an effort to defend himself; and to make an effort has
not in it the large serenity of the pure at heart, who stand
before Pilate. Rage and writhe as he would, the scorch
of the brandished sword was shrivelling up his selfishness,
and blinding him with its radiance. Lacerated, the
caitiff in him moaned doggedly his apologia: "I've done
nothing wrong; am I to suffer?" And the schoolmaster's
one smiting word, plucked from the mouth of Pilate, fell
like a hammer blow upon his soul: "'This Man hath
done nothing amiss; I find no fault in the Man;'" and
in front of the face of the evoked Christ — a face hewn
with the chisel of grief, yet glowing with an eternal
assurance — Eoghan began to sink in an immensity of
despair. His wail rang through the open window across
the silence of the leaves: "I cannot suffer the shame.
Oh, we are lost, lost!"
The schoolmaster touched him lovingly. "Child!
child! you have made your grief too big for you." And
this old man, who for a sin of his own youth had walked
through hell and was homeless upon earth, watched with
a new speechless misery the anguish of the boy, and saw
no hope for either in the world. "I can suffer for my
own fault, but how can he pay the penalty for another's?"
was his weary thought, going round and round in his
brain as a horse goes round a circus-ring, as the night
passed silently before his window, and the Morning Star
arose upon the pictured face of the dead woman of his
dreams. Wretched man! he had been to the boy a
schoolmaster to the very end, and he shuddered when he
recalled the boy's words: "I'll only have peace when I
hold her dead body in my arms."
Here at last was the solution of the problem which had
baffled them. "Your mither's fair set on hevin' her son
College bred." Gillespie's lie, spoken to save his face, was
hugged closely by his son, who divined the news to be a
door of redemption, and one which, so close to the heart
of the old scholar, would be as welcome to Mr. Kennedy as
to himself. He must go and tell him. He had already
said good-bye, but all the same he would go. Besides, he
had promised to introduce Barbara, and it must be done
this evening. She responded eagerly, and they set out
behind Brieston by the way of the Castle. The moon was
like a taper in the sky when they entered, by three moss--
grown stone steps, the large garden which surrounded the
school-house. The lights of Brieston twinkled below, and
the moon was on the Loch, a long bar of silver. As they
walked over the grass beneath the fruit trees they heard
a window being pushed up. Firelight alone glowed
within the room.
Mr. Kennedy, pondering upon the dead in his book,
had heard a voice, deep-toned and vibrant, calling these
words as from an infinite distance: "Thy brother shall
rise again." He lifted an alert head, and raising the
window listened; but the silence of the garden and
the fragrant night remained unbroken. "Strange,
that," he murmured; "the only person who ever said it
was Jesus." He peered through the trees where the
moonlight glimmered among the trunks with a grey sheen.
An Unseen Presence passed among the leaves, going upon
the tops like a gentle wind. Suddenly the watchers
beneath saw a white head leaning out and a pallid face
turned upwards to the skies, and two hands were stretched
out in supplication. The girl felt ashamed, as if she were
spying on something sacred. "Let us go, dear," she
whispered, and clung to Eoghan; but before he could
answer these mournful words fell on their ears: "Hast
thou called? O Thou who walkest the darkness like
light and movest as the wind before morning in Thy
breathing, pardon my sin, sanctify my life, make me
pure, and grant me Thy peace." The hands remained
outstretched. To the watchers a halo shone around the
saintly face. "O Great Spirit of the stars and the sea,
of the earth and the soul of man, be with him who is as
my son. Rend the darkness about his feet; suffer him
not to lose hope; amplify his aspirations; protect his
place; safeguard his destiny."
Eoghan shook like the column of water on a fall. The
Spirit of the Unseen passed as breathing upon the face
of the night, and the tree-tops trembled and were still.
Far off towards the isles the sea murmured an antiphone,
and an influence of heaven rained down from the velvet
depths of the sky.
The girl's lips quivered as her hand stole into Eoghan's.
"Amen, dear, Amen," she whispered.
Eoghan, who felt himself sinking through a great
deep into immortal peace, was unable to answer. The
heart of the night had ceased its beating, the stars their
wanderings; there was a vast listening void. Far off
through the gloom there arose the sob of the sea made
majestic by its unutterable meaning; and as its plangent
note melted away the white head was withdrawn and
the window was closed. An emeritus angel had vanished
from their sight, and they awakened as if they had stepped
back on to the grass from the vestibule of heaven.
Eoghan shook himself. "Let us go in."
"No! no! no!" she whispered. "I have met him.
Oh, Eoghan, Eoghan, I wish I were good like that old
man."
"O Thou that walkest the darkness like light, make
her pure and grant her Thy peace." He was praying
earnestly in silence for his mother, as the children of love's
wondrous morning, saddened and sublimated, passed
away from that lonely house, and from one who within
stood gazing in the firelight at the photograph of a girl.
He turned from the photograph, and closed the MS. in
which he had lived with the noble obscure dead.
"I am too sad to read to-night," he sighed. It was
always the same book — of Dante and his Beatrice. The
dead poet and he had a tragedy in common in the name
Beatrice. "I shall send in my resignation to-morrow,"
he muttered. A shadow passed across his face as he
thought of this house which he would have to leave.
The Board were anxious to give it to Mr. Campion.
"This sense of oppression is making me stupid," he
spoke again, and began pottering at the fire with the
poker. The fire-light leapt on the covers of his books
as if giving them a soul. He sank into his armchair
amidst the shadows which were gathering between the
fire and his bookcase. In a few minutes he was asleep.
The head of snow fell away; the breathing, deep at first,
became easy and gentle, and a long sigh quavered through
the room, which was rapidly growing dark beyond the
fire-light. In the flickering light his thin, worn face looked
beautiful and serene in its marmoreal calm. A little
noise of air expelled from his lungs broke the silence,
and the slack figure in the chair stiffened. A deep hush
lay upon the house and the garden. A little scurry of
sea-wind sobbed in the boughs without; a patter of leaves
on the path; a flame hissed and darted up in the coals;
the tick of a clock sounded loudly in the hall; the flame
perished in the grate; darkness and shadows fell upon
the old man. In a little while the great, solemn, autumnal
moon stole in at the window and touched the silent face
and kissed the head of snow.
Beneath that moon the lovers were leaning upon the
cannon beyond the "Ghost," and Eoghan was telling
Barbara how Mr. Kennedy had said good-bye. "Don't
be impulsive" — Barbara felt the wisdom of that — "work
steadily; think more of truth than of the laurel; be frugal,
and don't worry. Never be mean or unkind or cruel;
and read a portion of the gospel every night: it is the
greatest book in the world. If ever you are in a difficulty,
use me. I have some money I don't need. May
a rich blessing attend upon you." He went up the path,
stumbling slightly, his hands clasped behind him, his
head sunk forward on his breast, making his lean shoulder--
blades to stand out. An autumn leaf fell upon him as
he passed. Eoghan, watching the drooping white head,
saw the leaf slide of to the ground. He thought of
blood upon the silver breast of a dove.
They took a fond farewell of each other that night
at the door of the "Ghost" rather than to-morrow in
the broad day.
"Tell me again," she pleaded, "before you go."
"I love you, Barbara, beyond all women."
She smiled bravely. "I wanted to hear it again
before you left. Good-bye; good-bye." She flung her
arms around his neck: "Good-night; good-bye till my
eyes cannot see you," and kissing him fiercely she pushed
him away and vanished indoors. Presently she reappeared
and watched his figure go up the road in the
moon, till it disappeared where the road bends round
to the Pier. She stood gazing at the lunar light upon
the empty road.
CHAPTER VII
MRS. STRANG had acquired the habit of "stravaigin'."
She visited the shops and ordered unlimited quantities
of goods, saying she had abundance of money in the
bank, and jewels at home as fine as the crown jewels of
London. At first she used to drift home with an armful
of parcels, but Gillespie promptly returned the stuff.
Thenceforth the shopkeepers took her orders but did
not fulfil them. Some of them pitied her, some joked
behind her back. Topsail went out to search for her,
chiefly that Eoghan might be spared the sight of his
mother in such a condition. When Topsail was piloting
her mistress home, cajoling and coaxing her by turns,
she would interpose her own person betwixt her mistress
and "the men" at the corners, and betrayed none of
that stupidity which one feels in steering a drunken person
in the street.
But Topsail was busy to-night, revelling in a welter
of socks and shirts, the choicest of which she laid aside
with the eye of a hawk, along with pots of jam, fresh
butter, and other delicacies from the shop which she had
demanded for Eoghan's bag. These rites were being
performed within the holy place of the Coffin. To College,
among the professors! She conceived them as gods,
among whom none save men of great learning and nerve
would venture.
Jeck the Traiveller was pressed into service. "It's
me 'ill be in the bonnie pickle, up a' night sortin' his
clothes," she said to him gleefully at the close-mouth,
with her arms full of clothes taken from the back green.
"I've to iron them yet."
Jeck made no response and Topsail was irritated.
"Look, ye gomeril" — she nodded to the top of the
bundle — "that shirt's goin' to the College."
Jeck stared, ignorant of etiquette.
"Hev' ye noathin' to say, Jeck? It's goin' to the
Coallege where they learn to be doctors and ministers."
Jeck saluted the garment with phlegm.
"Ach!" she cried, "it's easy to see the lik' o' you never
had a Coallege eddication, ye dumbfoondered stirk."
"Thank God!" he ejaculated fervently; "what wad
a man wi' a wudden leg want wi' a College eddication? I
couldna sclim the pulpit stairs."
Topsail's wrath evaporated.
"I'll bate ye a thoosan' poun', Jeck, when the waen's
a minister, he'll preach that bubbly Jock Stuart blin'."
Jeck acquiesced, and she of her grace informed him that
on the morrow he would be privileged to carry the wonderful
bag to the Pier. She had twenty commendations,
and a final warning — if anything came over the bag he
need never show his face again.
In the meanwhile her unguarded mistress appeared at
Mrs. Galbraith's door, after having visited several shops
and houses. She had two red carnations in the hand with
which she knocked.
"I've brought ye a bunch o' flowers, Marget." Her
head had a stupid, listless angle.
With eyes of contempt Mrs. Galbraith took the flowers.
"If Mr. Strang has robbed me of my garden I'm glad to
see his wife makes up for it."
This was a new tone for Mrs. Galbraith, who had no
longer any use for this broken instrument. To understand
this it is necessary to trace the mental development
or rather the retrogression of this arrogant, strong-willed
woman. She was in some respects a tragic figure, with
her fine intellect prostituted to plans of cunning, and to a
perversity which, afflicting her with a moral nausea in
its earlier stages, was founded on loyalty to her husband's
memory, which she continued to revere, and which had
proved an insuperable barrier to Lonend's matrimonial
schemes. The memory of him kept her chaste as though
he were alive. He had found release; she was in a prison
cell, enduring pain and agony mingled with an intense
brooding upon and yearning for revenge. She was
racked with remorse that that vengeance yet went
hungry. In spite of her rash promise to marry Lonend
she swore to herself in the secrecy of night never to
marry again. Men had brought upon her all the suffering
she endured. They were rank egotists, ruthless liars,
perjurers, murderers, who, in spite of Christianity, made
slaves of women, beginning in slight, insinuating ways,
seizing every advantage of woman's pity and sympathy,
and relying on her mercy, till they had her beneath their
heel. She read anew into the original attitude of Jesus
Christ towards women. The half of His ethic was a
championing of their cause and claims. More than half
the ignominy, the disgrace and shame of the world they
bore, and often in secret, for the sake of their name,
their family, and their home. They compromised themselves,
not out of vice, but simply to please men, who take
advantage of the ease with which they succumb to the
male influence. Man had taught woman bestiality and
then visited her sins pitilessly upon her, while he demanded
tacitly or professedly for himself the greatest
latitude. He had not eradicated from his nature the
disposition of his savage ancestors to regard woman as
a piece of chattels. She recognised that woman was
capricious, prone to trifling iniquities, petty falsehood,
and little acts of vindictiveness, due to the predominance
of the child in her nature; but she had rarely the courage
to attempt a great crime. In such enormities she simply
yielded to the suggestions of men, was instigated by fear
or terror, or blinded by love. Woman adhered with a
criminal, dog-like devotion to men, refusing to betray
their most brutal secrets, even if this would rid her of
an existence of persecution. This is because of her
desperate loyalty to honour, a virtue which is a toy in the
hands of most men. A woman will sacrifice everything,
even life itself, which often is a slow martyrdom, to satisfy
the claims of her family. The law, which is made by
men and administered by them, had no understanding
of, or sympathy for, her position. The prisons were full
of women martyrs.
Again and again she had revolved these thoughts,
and towered up strong in pride that she was the sworn
antagonist of the worst man in Brieston, whom to destroy
was to stamp out a leprosy that was gnawing on the
vitals of the town. She was the militant defender of
her sex; the avenger of her fallen house. Till Gillespie
was buried beneath the broken lintel-stone of that house
she would have no peace of soul, no absolution for an
unfruitful widowhood. She would gloat in that day
when she could carve Gillespie's shameful epitaph upon
the recumbent lintel-stone of Muirhead farmhouse.
Though of late she had confided in Lonend, she would
trust no one but herself as she ruthlessly demoralised Mrs.
Strang, in the hope of striking at her impervious husband
through the ruins of his wife. She grudged Lonend the
least grain of that revenge which it was her constant
dream she would evoke upon Gillespie Strang. In all
this she was capable of the deepest sentiments of tenderness
and charity, and was a chief favourite with the
barefooted children of the Back Street. On Sundays
her kitchen was a private school, in which she taught
churchless bairns the Bible, and induced them to learn
by offering to the cleverest a monthly prize of a toy or
a little illustrated book.
Enraged that Gillespie Strang yet stood immune, she
did not perceive that she herself indulged in a vile crime
at the instigation of a man dead in his grave, and was
committing greater folly than that of the unfortunate
of her sex whose offences were inspired by living men.
This judge of men imagined herself the protectress of
her sex by waging war on one man over the battlefield
of his wife's body and soul. Her personality
dominated Mrs. Strang to such a degree that she believed
she could induce Gillespie's wife to poison him; but her
spirit quailed before that, and at this period of her life
revolted from such a consummation. She had gloated
for years over the idea of vengeance, which had passed
from being a stern duty to an exquisite pleasure. As she
had given it birth she nursed it as a babe, and it became
a companion, a solace, a fierce joy. Were Gillespie to
die, were he even to be murdered, her life would be robbed
of its most agreeable passion, and her imperious temper
would have detested the conqueror death. She preferred
a species of slow torture for Gillespie. Her ideal was to
see him come forth from prison begging in rags at her
door. She imagined a scene in which in that hour she
fed a starving dog in the rain, but with a sneer shut her
door in the face of a Gillespie worn out with hunger,
cold, and misery.
By no means featherheaded, she had reached that
mental state in which her joy was not full unless she
could disclose her idea of revenge to some other. She
made a confidant of Lonend, who at once informed her
of Gillespie's transaction in Dunoon and of the letter
which McAskill held as proof of his guilt. Old Mr. Strang
or Barbara would have to take action against the pirate.
"It's no' at the boil yet," said Lonend, his eyes gleaming
with the hidden lust to destroy; "he'll be up before the
Shirra on another chairge as weel; he's embezzlin' the
Poor Rates." Last year he, Lonend, had supplied money
to six poor people of Brieston unaccustomed hitherto
to pay these rates, offering them as much again when
they had paid this money to Gillespie as rates and taxes.
They had been given no receipt. "It's been goin' on
wi' others for years," laughed Lonend. "A' we want
is a squint o' his books. McAskill's workin' the oracle.
We'll hae the blood-sucker up on twa coonts. It's the
jyle for him this time, an' then good-bye to Gillespie
Strang when he wins oot. The old men o' Brieston that
hae noäthin' to do but tek' a walk 'ill hoast at him when he
comes oot o' jyle wi' his hair cut."
Lonend's excitement impregnated Mrs. Galbraith's
blood, who saw her dream about to be realised. Yet
she feared Gillespie's cunning. "He's as slippery as an
eel," she said doubtfully.
"He'll no' can wriggle oot o' this, by Goäd — sheer
embezzlement an' fraud. I've pleughed lang an harrowed
lang, an' noo, by the Lord, the scythe's ready
for the hairst."
Thus Mrs. Galbraith had no need any longer for the
broken instrument at her door who was saying, with a
furtive air of confidence: "I just took a run up for a
wee whilie, Marget."
"I'm very sorry, Mrs. Strang," answered Mrs. Galbraith
coldly, opposing the bulk of her form in the door,
"but you can't come in here in this disgraceful state.
I'm reading an interesting book, the philosophy of Lotze,
and can't be disturbed just now. Is it not time you
were home to milk the cows at Muirhead? You know
your husband stole it from me." There was a cynical
smile on Mrs. Galbraith's face as she shut the door.
Mrs. Strang looked at the inimical wooden wall with
eyes full of vague wonder. "Dearie me!" she murmured,
"I'm gettin' to be a fair outcast."
The veil of kindly night shrouded this shameful
spectacle, and she reached the door of Mrs. Tosh as the
taper light of the moon lit the sky. When Mrs. Tosh
also refused her asylum, vaguely the words "Muirhead
Farm" entered into her consciousness, and she trailed
wearily up the north road as the moon grew upon the
bay. As for Mrs. Galbraith, she thrust the carnations
to her nostrils, sniffed them greedily, and placed them
in a thin vase with water.
"Another trophy from Carthage," she ejaculated,
and resumed her book with a smile of satisfaction.
"They all come to my door," she thought. "Topsail;
Mrs. Strang; the next will be Gillespie."
CHAPTER VIII
WHEN Eoghan left Barbara he hurried home to pack
his books on mathematics, a subject to which he meant
to give a final revision in Glasgow on the evening before
the day of the mathematics examination. The town,
white as snow beneath the moon, lay strung around the
bay so still that he heard the burn run into the sea, and
the dying drip of oars in the Harbour mouth. Ahead of
him at the Quay he saw the figure of a woman, walking
slowly and heavily. It was his mother. Half-way to
Muirhead Farm she had retraced her steps, coming to a
sudden determination to visit the "Ghost," and discover
for herself if Iain were in prison. Then she remembered
he was on the sea in Gillespie's steamer, and turned
homeward. Eoghan saw her trailing like a ship, with
frayed cordage, that sways and sags across a wintry sea.
The shame was now abroad in the eyes of men. He
crouched back in the shadow of the police station wall
and halted. Her weak feet tottered with silly little
lurches, and the frill of a white petticoat trailed in the
mud of the herring guts — the refuse cast of the furnace
from which Gillespie drew molten gold. The street was
empty. The church bell rang the hour of eleven as he
watched her sway up the pavement, hirpling like a
wounded duck. The beating of his heart was stifling
him, for the college door of redemption he recognised
would never open. He became weary of existence.
Two men came out of a close and began walking rapidly
towards the Quay. Eoghan was forced to hide behind
a pile of tree-trunks on the breast wall that awaited ship
ment to become railway sleepers. As the men passed
he heard one of them in the still night say:
"It's Gillespie's wife; a gey cauld bed she's makin
o't."
Eoghan knew the man, a tailor. His companion
answered:
"She'd sook whisky oot o' a dirty cloot," and called
her by an offensive name.
They passed on, laughing. The blood tingled in
Eoghan's veins. That name! surely not that! He
felt himself going mad. The whole town knew, and
spoke that obscene name concerning her. He felt like
a watch-dog before his father's door that can only whine.
No! he could not believe in that name; it was only
the loose talk of a fool. But why should he say it?
Distraught with fear and shame he crept from his
shelter, and spying up and down the road, hurried on,
a wave of anger surging over him. He wished she
would die. He saw her crossing from the Bank into
the Square, in the midst of which a large black dog lay
in the moonlight, as if it were cut out of marble. She
sheered across to the dog and addressed it. He was now
in agony lest the Banker's folk see her. Suddenly she
attempted to kick the retriever, which gathered itself
up and trotted away. Hitherto he had conceived her as
keeping the house in her orgies, which, indeed, so far as
they came under his observation, had been of rare occurrence.
He had pitied her, numbering her in her poor
state of health with frail old maids with sad faces, who
sit at home with shawls about their shoulders. Now she
was flaunting her degradation in the eye of Heaven.
She laughed mirthlessly at the dog, and trailed across to
the close, where he found her, standing in its mouth,
swaying like a stripped tree in a winter's gale, and saw
with horror that in a drab, swollen face she had a practised,
soliciting eye.
"Get home!" he said; "get home, for God's sake,
out of here!" and pushed her roughly by the shoulder.
She gave him a glance of hatred and slouched away.
Panting upstairs, she complained of a pain in her back.
In the midst of the kitchen floor, with a child's toy in her
hand, she gazed round furtively. "Ye didn't notice a
sixpence?" she asked; "I thought I put it in the blue
bowl. It was your granny's bowl."
The blood was singing in his ears, and leaving his sight
murky. "Why don't you stop drinking?" he cried;
"you are a disgrace." He could not look at her. Instead
of accepting his challenge she simply acquiesced.
"What for?" There was a world of weariness in her
voice. "Where's my sixpence? My inside's burnin' like
a fire; it's rats that's eatin' me. I wish I were dead."
"Death's maybe at the door, mother," he answered
bitterly.
The word "mother" aroused her, and her eyes
searched his face hungrily. "I carena if it come ben to
my fire en'," she said.
He felt raw, scorched. "Oh, mother! mother! I
can never look man or woman in the face again."
As he wailed these words she appeared to take cognisance
of him, and the anguish in his voice pierced her
consciousness. "Who's got any right to meddle ye?"
A cunning leer passed over her face. "Let them redd
up their ain hearthstone first." Her lapse into the coarse
dialect of the Back Street marked for him a further
descent in one who had always been scrupulous about the
book English, learned in the Edinburgh school.
"Have you no pity for me?" he cried, rage breaking
into his voice. "I can't walk in the streets for shame."
Her haggard eyes searched his face with a blink of
understanding. "Ay! ay!" Her body shook as if a
sudden wind had blown upon it. "I'm just an auld hanky
fou o' snotters; it's long since my dancin' days were
done." She folded her hands in a resigned attitude, as
if awaiting the last stone from the slingers of Destiny.
Rage deepened within him at her intense egoism, and a
threatening look came into his eyes. "You're killing me
by inches," he cried out.
She was dimly conscious of his anger. "Dinna flyte
on me; dinna be angry," she cajoled.
"Angry!" he shouted, losing control of himself, and
striding up and down before her; "what pity have you
got for me? Between you and my father we're the byword
of the place."
The mention of "father" started a new train of ideas
in her mind. "Your father's a bad man an' a thief.
Have I no' a friend in a' the world that I can get to live
in peace?" In that moment she suspected her son of
being in alliance with her husband against her, and the
idea became fixed in her mind. Her voice went on
monotonously: "I'm better dead; far better. I was
sair trachled a' my days between ye a'; farmin' for him,
slavin', hainin'; aye keepit frae my ain; fair trachled
to death. Am I no' the bonnie ticket?"
His rage ebbed away. The sight of her misery unmanned
him — her glassy sunken eyes, her hair prematurely
grey, the crow's feet and wrinkles under her eyelids like
furrows of grief. He thought, "What a wreck!"
"Will you not give over drinking, mother?" he
pleaded. "You're breakin' your own heart as well as
mine."
"My time for vexin' ye a' will süne be by," she answered
rather cynically, and lurched from him across the
kitchen into her bedroom. He heard her fumbling in
the dark and stood baulked, hopelessly at bay. He would
pack no books on mathematics. What was the use of
it all? He heard Topsail in the Coffin wheezing some
stupid ballad. Why didn't she shut her mouth, or if
she did open it, lament? His father came in, tired from
a late hour in the office, where he had been dealing with
returns from the first of his cured herring for the season.
They had turned out badly, because of a heavy fishing
all along the East Coast. He betrayed his annoyance in
his surly face and voice.
"Whaur's a' thae bitches?" he snarled; "can a man
no' get a bite o' supper?"
At the sound of his voice his wife came into the
kitchen.
"I'm busy ironin' Eoghan's hankies," she said softly;
"he's going to College."
"Whaur hae ye been stravaigin' the nicht?" said
Gillespie in a harsh voice, noting her appearance.
"I've no more mind than them in the grave," she
answered. "I'm Lonen's daughter; a respectable
woman." She was leaning against the meal barrel.
Topsail had been baking some bannocks for Eoghan,
of which he was extremely fond; and the lid of the
barrel, ill-placed, fell on the floor.
"There's granny's barrel. I used to be the grand
baker o' scadit scones."
Gillespie absolutely ignored her, and producing a letter
from his inside pocket puckered his brow over its contents.
He had read it several times during the day.
It was from McAskill, and offered to sell to Gillespie his
own letter of instructions to Barbara concerning the
Dunoon property if they could agree on the price.
Gillespie was afraid of McAskill; but relied on his own
father taking no action, and determined to visit old
Mr. Strang. He pondered the letter with drawn brows,
the tip of his tongue protruding, and fell into a brown
study. He was raking up McAskill's past, seeking for a
joint in the lawyer's armour.
"I dinna bake now-a-days; there's nothing to bake
with. Oh, dearie me! I daurna go near the shop; and
Janet compleens she canna get me howkit oot o' the fire
en'; but I dinna compleen." She cast a wary glance at
her husband. "We've been married over twenty years
an' I've scarcely left his hip yet." She nodded over her
domestic revelations and smiled at her impassive husband.
The smile was like the last flicker of a dying fire, the faint
perfume exhaling from a crushed and soiled flower. "He
promised to take me to see the crown jewels …."
"Oh, God! this is awful! " groaned the miserable
Eoghan.
"Ye needna sweir, Gillespie," droned the whining
voice, as she sank heavily into a chair. "I've tholed for
more than twenty years." She took a red cotton handkerchief
from her pocket and dabbed her nose. "He's
aye greetin' in his sleep, Gillespie" — her voice became
high-pitched and sharp — "greetin' even on till I soothe
him wi' my hands. 'Dinna be doin' that, Eoghan,' I
cry an' cry. I can hear him greetin' noo; an' his legs
goin' that way" — she kicked out spasmodically. She
was plainly recalling scenes of his boyhood — "an' his
mouth a' twitchin'. An' when I touch him, poor waen,
he catches me wi' a death-grup, sayin' he's fleein' away in
the air. Oh, my poor, poor laddie" — she rocked herself
in the chair — "my heid's a' wrong wi' him." She put
her hand to her head, and her eye caught the vivid red
handkerchief. "It was my granny's; I took it out o'
the kist. They were the braw big folk in Islay." Her
shining eyes searched round the room. "I'm feart he'll
go wrong in the mind. Do ye think, Gillespie, it's a
lassie?" The tears trickled down her wrinkled cheeks. "If
I only kept her I would go on my bended knees to her."
"For God's sake, father, look at her! she's going
mad!" Eoghan screamed.
Gillespie looked across at his wife in a long, steadfast
gaze.
"What ails ye, that ye glower at me like that, man?"
she asked in an angry tone. "I haven't another tocher
for ye to steal."
"Ay," Gillespie said heavily, "she's been on the spree
wance too often; it'll soon feenish her, the rate she's
goin' on."
A greater horror fell upon Eoghan — horror of his
father's judicial, dispassionate attitude. The world was
huddling away into an arctic night of desolation and woe.
"What are we to do?" he cried in despair.
"Och! och! my heid's dizzy; it's gettin' dark."
Eoghan leapt to her side. Her hands made a groping
movement towards him; her breathing became deep and
heavy like a snore; little beads of sweat oozed out on her
forehead.
"What is it, mother?" He put his arm around her
shoulder.
Her eyes turned up at his voice. "It's one o' my
black — turns."
She fainted in his arm.
He screamed on his father, who rose leisurely, frowning,
filled a cup with water and splashed it on her face.
"Dinna be scarred," he said; "she'll come to." He
went to the door and shouted on Topsail, who came
scurrying down, a sock in her hand. Her mistress was
again conscious.
Topsail cast a spiteful glance at Gillespie and said to
Eoghan: "Tak' an oxter wi' me intae the room."
Between them Mrs. Strang was borne to bed, and
Topsail assured Eoghan that his mother was now quite
recovered. As he was leaving the room he heard his
mother say: "I have these glasses since Glasgow
Exhibition wi' my name on them. They were never
used before now."
He staggered as if stricken with blindness into the
kitchen, his eyes blazing on his imperturbable father.
"You sit there like a stone!" he screamed. "She's
mad! mad! I'm weary of misery and heartache; my
mother is lost. Oh, thank God I'm going away tomorrow!"

As day after day had passed Gillespie was more and more
convinced that his name hung upon his son, and that its
future was in his hands. His son was become a desperate
necessity to him, and being a necessity and the centre
of his forethought now, was the chief object of his solicitude.
His life had been given to the mastery of Brieston;
he had neglected almost every obligation within his own
doors. His married life had been one of sheer disregard
of the claims of the home, which was not for him a
sacred place, but a shelter, and more recently a kennel.
He despised its interests, evaded its necessary cares, refused
except in the most niggard fashion to maintain its life.
Insufficient and bad food — the scraps of the shop — and
neglect began the mischief; and what had a worse effect
on Mrs. Strang was the denial to her of all forms of
recreation and pleasure, which were a sort of moral oxygen
for her existence. She began to suffer from insomnia,
and resorted more deeply to drink. As her body gradually
became emaciated and her strength enfeebled periods of
bewilderment fell upon her like a cloud, and gave rise in
her mind to fears and apprehension. After a period of
revolt — instigated by Mrs. Galbraith — in which Gillespie
finally threatened violence, she sank into an apathetic
acceptance of her position, lost all interest in her home,
then in herself, became loose in her behaviour, and was
bordering on a state of collapse when the daily stream of
her misery burst its dam, and spread abroad in a turbulent
sea of insanity.
Gillespie was anxious to defend himself, for he knew
that if his wife's condition was laid by his son to his
charge, this would make a mortal enemy of the only
being in the world for whom he had any affection, and
would rob his life of its one redeeming hope. He was
increased with goods, but Fate was beginning to expose
to him the barrenness of things. He must cling to his son
at all costs; and so he put on a martyr air now. "Ay!
you're young at it," he answered, in a tone of commiseration,
"an' it gies ye a red face. I've kept it in my heart
thae twenty years."
"Twenty years!" Eoghan was aghast.
"Ay! since ye were born, Eoghan. Twenty stricken
years, withoot a word o' complaint. It's me that kens
the weary coont o' them — twenty to the pound" —
Eoghan was stupefied at this stupendous, silent warfare
— "but the dogs," went on his father's pathetic voice,
"the dogs that sniffed at her I hae broken, an' sterved
their waens."
Gillespie, pleased at this magnificent finesse, which
made of his greed a rapier over her defenceless head,
aimed at the heart of her slanderers, smiled softly.
The thought of such a dumb, titanic contest bewildered
Eoghan. But his grandfather! the old, lonely, despoiled
man in the "Ghost," bending over his consoling Bible —
this bare tree — had Gillespie struck at him also in his wife's
defence? Eoghan recalled the gnarled hands of his grandfather
— their thin, twisted veins, the knuckles swollen
with rheumatism, turning over the leaves of the Bible like
a marooned mariner consulting a chart — hands that had
toiled at the oar, and were in their old age ruthlessly
plundered. Hunger and thirst, death and anguish of the
sea he had, endured with patience; but the separation
from his family was slowly killing him. Eoghan swallowed
a sob.
"What about my grandfather?" he blurted out.
"I needit amuneetion for the fight."
"His money is all gone in his old age."
"Hoots!" answered Gillespie lightly, "the old man
'ill no sterve, ye know that. Ye canna aye keep your ain
folk in your pooch."
"It's a lie, a lie," rang in Eoghan's brain; "greed has
slain its own, father and wife." The thought smote on his
brain like a hammer on an anvil; and as he moved to the
door he flung a look full of contempt at his father: "Then
your pocket is a worse hell than my mother's;" and he
went out in wrath before his father.
The next morning he went by luggage steamer to
Glasgow without saying good-bye to his father. He had
started so early that he missed the intelligence which
circulated through Brieston at noon — that Mr. Kennedy
had retired from his office. Mr. Campion found him stiff
and cold in his armchair.
CHAPTER IX
EOGHAN lived in part in a vertigo of waking, in part
in that dream state with which he had been familiar in
boyhood, and before him constantly were the callous
eyes of his father and the wild, denunciatory laughter of
his mother, a figure of fury swooning into stone. His
own face was petrified, his stare fixed, as he roused himself
with difficulty at the banal sounds of the street, and the
harsh rumour of a commercial people. "If I could sit
on here, sit on for ever," he thought. His text-book on
mathematics lay open on the table, where he had placed
it to defend himself from the intrusions of his landlord, a
fiery-faced man in stocking soles, who last night had
curled himself up in a horse-hair armchair and recounted
to the lodger his personal history. He had seen the
Queen in Glasgow twice; his son had been driven "silly"
by the police, who had held him as a marked man, and had
mauled him on a Saturday night. His son now spent his
time hanging over the window, and shrinking back when
he saw a uniform. Now and again he would flap his arms
and say: "If I were a wee spug I would flee awa' frae the
poliss." Eoghan had been invited into the kitchen
overlooking Byres Road to see the "silly," who mouthed
at him and made noises like an animal. His landlord and
he filed out again, as if they had been in a zoological
garden or a museum, the red-faced mason whispering that
it was all up with a man when the poliss took a spite to
him.
Eoghan had that day sat the paper in English, and
determined to revise his trigonometry after tea. Rousing
himself, he lit the gas and sat down to a chapter on the
solution of triangles. He read the first page without any
conception of its meaning. Weariness, hopelessness, fell
upon him as a curse, and he got up in despair. His eye
caught an oleograph of Gladstone on the wall, showing a
young pink-and-white complexion and a cherubic smile.
He shook himself with an effort from this mood of detachment.
"What am I doing? Nothing; nothing," he
thought, overcome with vexation. His misery was irredeemable.
Aimlessly he picked up the examination
paper in English, headed Glasgow University Preliminary
Examination. By an enormous effort of will he had that
day tackled the questions which were all, he thought, so
utterly divorced from life. What had they to do with
the horror of his existence? Mechanically he read them
once more. "Give, in your own words, the substance of
the following passage" (the lines swam before his eyes):
"No voice divine the storm allayed,
No light propitious shone;
We perished each alone,
And I … …
And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he."
"Poor devil! poor mad devil," he muttered. He
read on, stultified:
"Characterise the style of the following passages:
"(a) 'But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, any
deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity
"(b) 'Till the day break and the shadows flee away.'
"(c) 'Through the sad heart of Ruth when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that ofttimes hath
Charm'd magic casements opening on the foam
Of perilous seas in faëry lands forlorn —'"
The examination paper fluttered in his shaking hand
Beyond the walls he saw the spindrift rising behind dim
isles of the west, upon the rigging of a gaunt, lonely
house smothered in clouds of snow, and heard the sign
of a dagger jangling above the door. Pale dreams of a
sombre sea-land drifted up and vanished, leaving unappeasable
pain and sadness behind. He read on:
"(d) 'Oh, eloquent, just, and mightie Death! whom none could
advise thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared thou hast done,
and whom all the world hath flattered thou only hast cast out of the
world and despised. Thou hast drawn together all the farre stretched
greatness, all the pride, crueltie, and ambition of man, and covered it
all over with these two narrow words — Hic Jacet!'"
What fiendish torture! What infinite malice to
torment him with those words! The babbling of the
"silly" in the next room broke the silence. He was
whining for his mother to protect him from the poliss.
What a world of devils and of geniuses! Eoghan crushed
the examination paper into a ball and threw it on the
fire. The thought of returning to the text-book on
trigonometry filled him with nausea, and picking up his
cap he went into the street and walked up University
Avenue, away from the crowd in Byres Road, like one in
a dream. He was startled by the University clock booming
the half-hour as he hurried down the brae of Gibson
Street. In Woodlands Road the crowd was thicker; but
he thought them morose, alien to the feelings of pity or
terror, and untouched by any great trial. They moved
as a cloud. He retraced his steps, plunging blindly,
and his level stare distinguishing no face in front of
him.
Within his room he felt safer and calmer. The clear
light, the bright fire, made the place an asylum from
the great callous city. Determined to resign himself to
the hazards of the future, he would seize an omen from
to-morrow's examination paper. If it suited the course
of his studies he would pursue his way through a College
career relentlessly, with his back for ever turned upon
Brieston and its shame. He went to bed in a comparatively
tranquil state of mind.
The morning was dark with fog, out of which, as he
passed along Dumbarton Road, he saw a funeral loom,
the hearse gigantic in the gloom. He shuddered. At
this time in the morning! He took his chair at the
square, black table — No. 104 — in the Bute Hall, and
having written his name on the examination book, sat
gnawing the end of the pen. As something far off in
a dream he heard the rustling of papers all over the hall,
and the uneasy shuffling of feet. It was no use — his
youth was despoiled; he saw that now. The armour of
last night's resignation was only cardboard. A cloud of
anguish brooded on his mind. He would have to live in
a house whose blinds were eternally drawn, within which
sat a dishevelled woman with a face of stone, who only
roused herself to commit acts of shame, and to return
from her orgies trembling and white as a sheet, her glassy
eyes pools of madness. He gave way to the direst suspicions,
recalling the obscene name he had heard the
tailor use, and seeing once more the desert emptiness of
a moonlit street, and its blind, blanched house-fronts
crudely staring down on a dark, ugly figure reeling along
to the accompaniment of inane laughter. He saw the
great dog slouch away in fear, and heard her childish skirl
rise over the fevered scraping of hundreds of pens, wielded
by young men who were racing with each other against
time for a place on the Bursary List. There had been
in Brieston Harbour a yacht's anchor-light which had a
wobbling movement like hers. From the degradation
of this woman proceeded a flame that was devouring
him. She, sordid and derelict, was become the arbiter of
his fate and he the puppet. Pitiably ignorant of her
debauchery, she was Olympian over him in menace, her
dishevelled head towering among lightnings. The cleanness
of his life was an ineptitude before her vileness; his
ambitions and hopes lay strangled in the coils of her
obscenity. As long as she was above earth he would be
a target for the jibes and whisperings of men who could
think of nothing but the weather and the fishing. What
use to carry College laurels back to the mire of Brieston?
His quivering, secretive, proud heart was bleeding as
he thought of his darling dreams shattered by a malign
and sordid despotism. He gazed around in anguish at
the hundreds of young men with heads bent over the
little square, black tables in the large, silent hall, and felt
himself an outcast. He had chewed the end of his pen
to pulp, and his chair was scrunching on the hard wooden
floor. His fellow-examinee at the next table looked
angrily across at him, and Eoghan bent his eyes on his
examination book and began to write, he knew not what.
After a little he glanced at the examination paper, but,
unable to discern the algebraic symbols, threw down his
pen and pushed back his chair. The pen rolled off the
table on to the floor. He stood a moment swaying on his
feet. The student beside him looked up and was about
to speak, but at sight of the shocking appearance of
Eoghan's face went on again with his writing. Eoghan
walked rapidly down the matted passage towards the
door. Some one shouted, and turning he saw the superintendent
of the examination, a thin, wiry man, with
dark, piercing eyes, relieved by a humorous, tolerant
smile. His gown was floating out behind him like a cloud.
Eoghan awaited him with a fixed smile and set jaws, as
he would a bloodhound on his slot.
"Have you finished your algebra?"
Eoghan felt angered at the cool, self-sufficient darkness
of this man, at his malignant politeness and immaculate
get-up — neatly curled black moustache, superb linen
cuffs, high, snowy collar, a dim blue stone in his tie-pin,
his thick, curly hair neatly cropped.
"I've done all the algebra I'll ever do." He felt at bay
and revengeful.
"If you want to leave the hall at this hour you must
leave the examination paper behind."
"I have no paper." Eoghan bowed ironically and
turned on his heel. The superintendent stared after
him, betraying well-bred surprise; then strolled to the
vacant table and curiously read the name on the yellow
cover of the examination book. He opened it at the
first page. It contained no algebra, but:
"Oh, eloquent, just, and mightie Death, so early in the fog."
A little beneath it in a large, sprawling hand:
"No voice divine the storm allayed,
On perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn."
And further down, in a more ragged hand:
"The gown has yielded to infamy; the eternal lamp of learning
is quenched because there was whisky for oil in the bowl."
"Life is a page of Punch, with the letterpress by Sterne and
Rabelais. Vae victis."
The whimsical smile faded out of the black, piercing
eyes as they rested for a long time on the scribbled writing.
"The incoherence of talent. I ought to have detained
him;" and the superintendent picked up the book as a
trophy for his wife's careless hour, and went back to his
duty of patrolling the hall.
Everything looked as simple as before — the long
frontage of the Infirmary; the red-flannelled patients
taking the air; the West-end Park with its trees, its sinuous
walks, its muddy river; the cabs and cars rattling along
Dumbarton Road; the squat little uniformed porter at
the gate of the Infirmary, keeping official watch upon the
living and the dead — and yet all was changed. It was
hateful, inimical, leaping suddenly out of a state of sun--
drenched quiescence into an amazing busyness, wrought
of the hand of ambition, hung with dreams and hopes,
ripe with achievement, and accusing him as he crept
along with his infinitesimal pain of vacillation, cowardice,
and puerile despair. The sight of the Infirmary and
University was hideous, and he hastened to get down to
the street, where were men of affairs like his father. He
had formed an idea of escape from an accusing conscience
— he would return to Brieston and engage himself
in the business of his father. He flung back a look of
hatred at the long front of the University. It was a big,
grey cage. He had no tender resignation, but a spirit
of sombre revolt against this seat of the monopoly of
haughty intelligence. He had the superintendent in his
mind's eye, and ground his teeth as he thought of that
dark official, who had smiled like a god upon his disquiet.
He had spoken with a lisp and a supercilious curl of dark
eyebrows, a play of white fingers and manicured nails.
Simpering fool in the swaddling bands of fine linen! The
drone of Glasgow's traffic came up to him. What did
that academic ass, that dry surd know of all this — the
life of the great grimy servant beneath, who keeps a door
in the house of the world — his eyes swept around to the
Infirmary — or of that carbuncle on the back of the city?
Does he know anything of the poor devils who are glad
to creep in there out of ships? — Iain, broken on a reeling
deck in the midst of a gale, was in his mind — out of
factories, out of the big offices, out of the wee homes.
Ay! out of the wee homes. "Bethesda! Bethesda!"
he muttered. The sun struck along the noble front of
the edifice. He remembered the crowd he had seen
yesterday standing at its gates. How fine it looked with
its trees and lawns! but that silent crowd, with their
bunches of flowers, their drawn faces, their bleeding
hearts waiting at the gates of the grim resolver of all
their fears. He nodded to the grey pile — how quiet it
was! — death is quiet — and the windows, hundreds of
them, watching and waiting. A siren screamed on the
river. Though the fog had lifted from the heights of
Gilmorehill it clung in shreds about the Clyde. Why
do these seamen blare so in the very doors of pain? Do
people ever think what is behind that long face of stone
with its watching windows, where the pigeons flutter in
the silent sunshine — a knife perhaps going this very
moment into a girl's body? He shuddered. Then,
recollecting himself, he rose from off the railing on which
he had been leaning, and gazed down on the roofs of
Glasgow. Life was going on there, big and palpitating,
breeding and bleeding, sowing and reaping, founding and
building, hewing and banking. There should be a Chair
of Life founded in this University — he lapsed again into
meditation — but where would they find a professor?
He was eager to escape into the streets, having succeeded
in pouring an anodyne upon his conscience. The University
is an artificial rose planted in the midst of a field in
which men are toiling and sweating. The rose for ever
blows, rain or sun, and young fools learn to carry away
from it beautiful artificial petals. With this specious
idea, which was his apology to his conscience for his
retreat, he passed out of the University gate into the
turbulence of Dumbarton Road. An incubus of grey
stone, a meaningless network of mathematical figures and
quotations from the classics was behind him. A blind
man, anchored to a dog by the gate, was reading aloud
from a Braille book. The latter-day fear of life gripped
Eoghan at the sight; and rattling some coppers in the
blind man's tin he hurried on in the direction of Partick.
He wandered without sense of direction, and felt jaded
and his mind empty. In a little while he asked aloud,
"Why am I here? I've made an ugly mess of things.
What will Mr. Kennedy think?" His brain burned with
the consciousness that he was like an animal caught in
the toils. Twice he stopped, gazing around, feeling
terribly lonely, and hungering for the sight of a known
face. In Great Western Road, not far from the Botanic
Gardens, he asked a policeman to direct him to Byres
Road. He asked this to have an opportunity of speaking
to some one, for he felt in this monstrous isolation that
he must scream aloud. He found his landlady out.
His limbs were heavy like metal as he sat down in company
of the "silly." He felt languid and depressed.
His companion turned large eyes of fear upon him, and
crouched into a corner. Neither spoke a word. After
an hour of this inanition, feeling refreshed by his rest,
he picked up his cap and went out. Grey evening was
brooding on the streets of Partick, along which the "black
squad" was hurrying home for tea. He remembered
he had eaten nothing since breakfast, and walked along
on the look-out for an eating-house. In Kelvinhaugh he
entered a dairy, drank two glasses of milk and ate a scone.
His eye caught a play-bill on the wall, and he asked the
girl behind the counter by what streets to reach the
theatre. He lost his way, and paid a street urchin to act
as guide; but the boy, proving too loquacious, was dismissed.
In the theatre he felt a sense of isolation, and
suffered from the happiness of those about him. His
neighbour, a stout, short man with a clear, healthy complexion,
was deep in talk with his fellow about a bowling
tournament somewhere in Langside, with which the
season was to be closed. The tournament was to be
followed by a whist drive. The little stout man spoke
wittily, and incensed Eoghan. The play, a gross travesty
of life, teemed with skipping girls, a naval officer smoking
cigarettes, in a splendid uniform, who sang a bombastic
sea-song in a rich baritone, and a wizened little man in
grey side-whiskers and spats, the rich father of a willowy
girl, who was in love with the baritone. The father
posed in attitudes of grief as he reviled the officer and
his wilful daughter to a ringletted woman who was once
nurse to the daughter. What tawdry banality! The
scene overwhelmed him with mournfulness. The fat
witty man at his side was whispering innuendoes behind
his programme, and scrutinising the painted girls as if
they were cattle. Eoghan left the theatre, weary of its
tinsel, sick of its cardboard life and stucco characters.
He would go home, yes, home; Barbara would bring out
her fiddle and they would make a night of it. He went
down Renfield Street and bought his ticket at the Central
Station. In Argyll Street he boarded a car for Partick.
The beards of middle-aged men hung over the buttoned--
up collars of their coats as they leaned attentively towards
the women, and with an air of responsibility searched for
the necessary coins in their pockets. Every one was
silent except an old, stout man, grey like a lichened rock.
A young girl tripped in, leaving a legacy of laughter
behind her to some friend or lover. She wore neither
furs, veil, nor gloves, was all in white, and filled the car
with breeziness, spontaneity, joyousness, a sense of
health. On her entrance convention paled, and every
one began to talk. Eoghan thought of Barbara, and
saw as in a dream the face of the morning hills rise in a
bland air above a tranquil sea; the "Ghost" laved almost
by the tide, and sea-birds flying over its roof. At its door
an old man with expectant face watched the road. He
glanced timidly at the girl. Feeling his eyes upon her
she returned the glance. In confusion he looked out of
the car and saw a woman of the street, her neck foreshortened
in the depth of imitation sable furs, dallying
at the window of a music-seller's shop to evade the police
till the music-hall across the street disgorged the devotees
of an empty art.
At Finnieston a couple entered. One a wisp of a man
who sat down hat in hand. A white tie marked him as
a wedding guest. He ran his fingers through his hair
and babbled of his recent revelry to the woman, who was
enormously fat and sat legs astride. Her flesh quivered
with the movements of the vehicle. She had a paunch of
a bosom on which lay droppings of food. Her hat was
awry. She began to recount the history of a quarrel at
the wedding feast. Her eyes were bleary with drink;
she rolled in her seat, grunting, and presented a sordid
spectacle. A woman in bangles and furs beside Eoghan
murmured "How disgusting!" The female leviathan
belched and, angry at the man for monopolising the
conversation, plucked a rabbit fur from her neck and
stuffed it in the man's mouth. He threatened her with
his fist, and the conductor of the car intervened. Eoghan
was sickened, and the silver vision of home vanished.
He saw his mother in this slavering, foul-mouthed
woman. He rose hurriedly, left the car, and found himself
at the gates of the West-end Park. A tall, thin, dark
woman with a child's hand in hers stopped singing to
beseech alms of a young man and girl who approached
the gates arm in arm. She said they had had nothing to
eat that day. The girl was leaning towards her lover
with her shining eyes upon him, and they did not so much
as glance at the starving mother and child. The woman
sighed deeply, and looked down in pity at the babe.
What a relentless world! He thrust a handful of coins
into the woman's hand and dived into the darkness of
the Park. He had noticed a falling-in about the woman's
temples. He heard the girl ahead of him laughing, and
was filled with rage. He walked rapidly till he came to
a vacant seat. Above him the massed gloom of the
University pile made him shudder — gigantic under a dark
night-sky, inhospitable, and yet harbouring in its scrupulous
aloofness a thousand thousand dreams — the home
and asylum of all the talents which yet ground individual
sorrow and grief into dust. He took no notice of the
chance couples who passed him, clinging to each other's
arms. What was he to do? He attempted to count his
money. There was seven pounds in notes. The loose
money he had given to the woman at the gate. He would
go to some strange town and rid him of the incubus of
the University and his mother — Dundee, Aberdeen,
Perth, Edinburgh, Ayr, Dumfries, London; he conned
name after name — Oxford. "What folly is this? he
cried aloud, half bewildered; "I must go home and live
it down; Barbara at least will be glad to see me." The
University bell boomed out solemnly. He counted the
heavy strokes. Twelve o'clock. He jumped to his feet
as the last stroke died away. It was the farewell of the
University to one of her lost children.
He recognised when he reached his lodgings that Brieston
was a retreat which would expose him to humiliation,
and which was big with unnamed fear. He sat down with
an abandoned air, his arms hanging loosely. The fire
was out, and he began to shiver with the cold. He was
unable to think. If only he could go and hide somewhere.
The tears oozed into his eyes, and when he
angrily shook them away his eyes became fixed like
stones. Suddenly he saw his mother before him — she
was in her nightdress, her hair on her shoulders, a lamp
in her hand, and she besought him mutely, with a face
of fear and hunger. He jumped to his feet, full of alarm,
and a scream rang from his lips. It awakened him to
reality. The vision had vanished, the room was horrible
empty, and life also empty of everything dear that it
possessed — faith, aspiration, effort. He felt himself
rising up with the floor and sinking down. "She needs
me! she needs me!" he moaned. The room began
slowly to spin about; but he was unable to lift his head,
which felt numb and hard like a block of iron. He
tottered to the mirror and gazed at his face. It was
drawn and like clay.
"I am going to be ill," he whispered in a strained,
tense voice. He thought he heard some one moving in
the next room, but was not sure, for a loud buzzing sang
in his ears. He staggered back towards the chair and
felt himself sliding into an enormous space. The room
had ceased spinning, and was receding from him swiftly,
as if winged. He flung up his two arms and sank into the
black void. The door was opened cautiously an inch or
so; a red-whiskered face peered in, and two slits of eyes,
blinking with sleep.
"Is anything wrang wi' ye?"
There was no answer.
It was not till the seventeenth day after that the
Partick doctor allowed Eoghan to rise from a bed of low
fever and influenza to go home. The doctor advised him
to take a thorough rest, and if possible go on a holiday
that would give him a complete change. Above all, he
was on no account to worry. Eoghan set out for Brieston,
after having sent a telegram to Barbara from the Central
Station.
CHAPTER X
TOPSAIL wore a clean apron, and had dinner ready for
him in the parlour. She had dusted the box of birds'
eggs, collected when he was at school, and set it in a conspicuous
placed beside the stuffed parrot in the glass case.
Her work finished, she became shy; and this feeling grew
as it came nearer noon, at which hour the steamer was
due. What would she call him — Eoghan or Mr. Strang?
She could not decide. "Mr." was cold and strange. A
distant rumble was heard, and she ran to the parlour
window. "There's the coaches; there's the coaches
frae the steamer," she shouted excitedly to her mistress.
She watched the coach stop at the "George Hotel" and
the bareheaded proprietor scurry out of doors. There was
a cloud of steam above the horses' ears. The driver
jumped down, whip in hand, and his bandy legs twinkled
round to the nose of his horses. Three passengers descended
and entered the Hotel. The driver climbed up
again to the box and laid his whip across the flanks of his
team. Topsail's eyes widened; her hands fell listlessly
to her side. The Square and the front of the Hotel
became desolatingly empty. She blamed the driver for
this and hated him. Mechanically she picked up the
case of eggs, wiped the glass with her apron and looked
round the room — the bright fire, the first since Iain's
funeral, ordered that day by Gillespie, and the table with
its snowy cloth. A phantom presence that had come
there with strong familiar solicitations had crept away
again. She felt widowed afresh. Again she moved to
the window. No! Yes! it was he. She wiped the
tears from her eyes and craned her neck. Wearing
gloves, too, and walking up the street with Maclean.
The dear doctor! pulling away at his moustache and
watching Eoghan with his keen eyes. But what a face
the laddie had — white as a sheet!
"Come over to-morrow and have breakfast with me."
Oh, the dear, dear doctor. Just listen to his big, cheery
voice.
"Oh, he's here! he's here! Do ye think he'd come
up wi' the coaches? The folk winna see him. He walked
up wi' the doctor." She gripped her mistress by the arm
and shouted in her ear:
"He's gotten a moustache; I saw 't frae the winda;
a wee black moustache." An ecstatic joy irradiated
Topsail's face. Her mistress gloomed up at her from
lowering eyebrows, and made no response.
Gillespie was standing in the front door of the shop.
He was now past middle age; his neck, straight and
massive, was so red that flame seemed to be smouldering
beneath the skin. His skull was immense; its frontal
part polished like an ivory ball; and his hair turning
silver. A pleasant, almost patriarchal man to look at,
were it not for the quick eyes, which darted with the
weasel's cunning and flash. He had a ponderous, saturnine,
half meditative air as he watched his son.
"An' hoo are ye?" he hailed cheerily, while Eoghan
was some two yards off. With a glad light in his greenish
eyes, whose moistness gave the impression that they had
been sucking something succulent, he scanned his son.
"A wee thing thinner; ye're at the studyin' ower
much." Eoghan was moved by the solicitude in his
father's voice and look.
"Oh, I'm all right!" He brushed past his father
into the shop from the gaze of the Square — Lowrie in linen
at his window; Kyle, with his withering smile, at his door.
Gillespie followed, and when they were within the
shop, held out an almost timid hand, and with a hungry
look at his son said: "Shake hands, Eoghan."
They shook hands in silence.
That face, pale as the dead, the listless air, the slack
hands, the weary voice, found out Gillespie in the very
centre of his being.
"Ye're home for a holiday." He spoke with desperate
cheerfulness.
No! he had failed in his examination; he had been
ill in Glasgow. "I've come back to go into the business
as you wished": then he turned his back, and
stood spent and motionless, the lines of his body
quivering into rigidity. In that bowed figure Gillespie
divined that there was more than the effect of failure in
examination, for which, indeed, Gillespie was glad. He
refrained from questioning his son about his prolonged
absence and how he had spent the "siller." The stark
figure troubled Gillespie, who was ready to make sacrifices
now that Eoghan was prepared to go into the business.
His son's decision removed a deep, secret trouble. Final
attainment in life was now possible. He would leave a
"braw pickle siller" to his son, who would prolong his
name and carry on his works. He knew the smouldering
hostility of Brieston; the implacable enmity of Lonend;
Mrs. Galbraith's unsleeping desire of vengeance; but
trampled on these in sheer contempt. A balance at the
bank was invulnerable armour, and nothing could touch
him now in face of those words: "I've come to go into
the business" — nothing except that ghostly face consumed
with woe. It filled him with a growing uneasiness.
"Is there anything wrang wi' ye by ordinar, Eoghan?"
"I've come back to the slave-hulks," was the
answer.
Gillespie was nonplussed. He determined to make a
bargain with his son that any man would jump at, for
the wounds taken in life's vicissitudes could all be healed
by bargains. "Dinna tak' on aboot thae examinations;
I'll soon be gein' up business; I feel gey an' düne whiles
in the mornin's: ye'll hae a braw sittin' doon; naethin'
in a' Brieston like it. I've wrocht lang an' late an' early;
the tocher a' be yours, Eoghan. There's seeven
thoosan' in dry money in the bank; an' eight hunner
good in shares in shippin'; an' a score o' fishin'-boats;
an' a' the stores and the business; an' I'm insured on a
thoosan' wi' profits when I'm sixty-five."
To Eoghan his father was enumerating the results of a
life of oppression, dishonesty, and theft.
"Step ben the office an' we'll look ower the books an'
papers; its as weel for ye to ken whaur ye stan'."
Eoghan turned and confronted his father. "Don't
insult me any longer with your offer of plunder. You
make me feel a rogue. The more the thousands the deeper
your guilt."
The cold, merciless tones smote Gillespie like a sword.
He saw himself baulked, his life defeated and closed up
without avenue of escape, his wealth ashes, and nemesis
in his path. If his son denied him, what lay ahead of
him but a dreary existence of aimlessly amassing money?
It would go through his wife — who seemed to be as wiry
as a cat — to Lonend, who was to be married to Mrs.
Galbraith at the New Year. The thought was gall to
him. What could he do with his possessions? The
profile of nemesis now was turned full face upon him
— to have laboured for Lonend and Calum Galbraith's
widow. More than ever was the anchor of his hope
cast in his son. Gillespie turned harrowed eyes upon
him, and in that glance, resting on the silent figure of
grief which already had begun to haunt the father, he
felt how impotent he was.
"What dae ye mean, Eoghan? Ye canna go intae a
business noo-a-days withoot capital."
"Do you know what I did with the money you gave
me when I went to Glasgow? I paid my landlady and
the doctor."
"Of coorse; of coorse. I hope ye werena skimped."
"The rest I gave to the poor," Eoghan went on pitilessly.
Gillespie winced, and sternness crept into his
eyes; his nostrils whistled with suppressed anger. "If
you want me to work along with you pay back the money
you have plundered."
"To wha?"
"To the fishermen; to my grandfather; to my
mother."
At this signal of menace covetousness gripped Gillespie's
heart.
"To your mother," he sneered; "bonny lik' thing, to
squander it in drink."
"That fault is yours. You have denied her all her
life; you have made my grandfather weep tears of blood;
your greed has been the means of drowning my brother."
"Ay! ay! blame me for Goäd Almighty's storms."
"No!" The boy's face was blanched with passion.
"I blame you for a rotten, ill-founded, undermanned
boat. The heap of your gold is the heap of your iniquity.
Remember when you come to die that I told you so."
Gillespie trembled before the fierceness of the accusation.
The solid ground was gone from his feet. "Is
that what ye cam' back frae the Coallege to tell me?"
The feeble light of a last hope fluttered in his breast —
his son had spoken at the first of entering the business
without those terrible stipulations. "Will ye no' tak'
up the pleugh-stilts, Eoghan, an' no' heed thae noänsense?
Ye're tired oot the noo. Bide till ye get a chack
o' dinner."
"I warn you I will give your money away to its rightful
owners."
Fear and greed made Gillespie abject. He moaned
the death of Iain. Where could he turn now? He
had slaved all his life and was this the end, the thanks?
Was he to carry his white hairs to the street a beggar,
and begin the fight again empty-handed? Brieston
would fling glaur on him. Had his son no bowels of
mercy? Was he to see a' his money an' gear slippin'
into the hands o' Lonen', his dour enemy?
He spent his last word and stood waiting, beseeching
an answer. Eoghan's back was still turned. "Goäd
in heaven! I canna thole to see my money gang to
Lonen': it wad gie me the grue in my grave."
"If there's no other way, then take it with you to the
grave."
The words fell on Gillespie loaded with doom. One
minute, two, three of terrific silence. It was broken by
a gush of song from one of the canaries. In the midst
of the raining melody Eoghan began to walk out of the
shop. "I will return as your partner when you have
paid back what you have taken unjustly, and restored to
my mother her proper position as your wife."
Gillespie did not hear. The blaze of bird-music
drowned every other sound. He raised a stupefied face
to the canary. "Wheest, wheest ee noo wi' your blatter;
wheest, I tell ye; hae I no' enough to thole?"
He felt stifling, and walked heavily to the door for air.
His son was walking rapidly across the Square. He
watched him go down Harbour Street, on the way to the
"Ghost." For a long time Gillespie pondered, and at
last retired and addressed the twittering canary. "There's
only ae thing noo — get him mairrit on Barbara. She'll
haud a grup o' the siller."
CHAPTER XI
SOME ten days previous to this scene Gillespie had paid
a furtive visit to the "Ghost" — the first since he had
removed to the Square, and the following morning at
breakfast old Mr. Strang spoke of the visit to Barbara.
He fidgeted a good deal and finally said:
"He's stealt your money, Barbara."
The girl's bosom rose and fell quickly.
"Have we no money, grandad?"
"Yours is gone, lassie — the thief, thief" — those words
were wrung out of him.
Barbara was overcome with horror. Life, threatened
with penury, suddenly assumed titanic proportions.
"What are we to do, grandad?
"McAskill, the lawyer, advises ye to go to law." He
spoke without looking up. She thought of Eoghan and
her face became tender, compassionate.
"Oh, no! no! not that."
He groaned. "We maun nurse oor sorrow an' oor
shame. The wolf! the wolf! needit the money for a
steamer."
He lifted his eyes upon her out of tearless depths,
and the pathos of something once beautiful and now
mangled in that face stirred the girl to a wave of
motherhood. She ran to him and flung her arms around
his neck. Never mind, grandad; we've always got
each other."
"Ay, God's good to me … Gillespie doesna believe
in God. It's a terrible thing, the wrath o' the livin'
God." The voice rang out loudly. The girl gazed at
him in fear. "Your granny was feared o' a curse. What
am I sayin'!" he broke off abruptly; "a wheen noansense
o' the olden times
Barbara listened wide-eyed. Something of horror
in the backward life of this house overshadowed them,
and her glamorous beauty faded away into an aged look,
as that of one who has watched a battle, and has seen the
ruin of war conceal the face of one beloved.
But her fear of penury, her horror of the unknown
curse were now forgotten. Eoghan was coming to-day,
and great prison walls crumbled to dust. Fire licked
up the grey shadows upon the world. There were tongues
and voices everywhere. She consulted the telegram again
and again, flung open the window, and drank in breath
after breath of the cool air. Frost whitened the grass and
hedges; the road was like iron; diamonds flashed in the
sea. Life was glory, and she ascended her mount of
transfiguration and saw the heavens open. The scents
of the shore; salt of the sea; its sparkle and glitter and
crooning; the fleece-clouds in the blue; the imperial
blaze on the windows of Muirhead Farm; the wheeling
of the gulls; a tawny fisher sail leaning on the gentle
north wind — all entered through eye and ear into her
blood, intoxicating her. She opened wide her arms and
murmured his name. Her eyes, like frosty stars, shone
along the road to Brieston.
The sight of her was at once a solvent of his trouble.
As he became aware of the marvellous fragrance of her
face, the tender, shy glance of her eyes, the eagerness and
joy of her whole being, he ascended out of his misery into
another plane of being. She blushed before his long,
ardent look, and came towards him, her two hands out,
her youth full of alluring grace, speaking his name breathlessly.
As he kissed her he saw in the shadow of her hat
a magnificent lustre in her eyes. Then they walked by
the sea-side, where the Loch was a great pearl, bordered
along the shore as with green iridescent glass. She called
his attention to the insignificant things of the wayside for
sheer joy of talking to him, jested about his moustache,
which she caressed with pouts of laughter. "What
torment my life has been since you went away; but
now — Oh, Eoghan Eoghan! I love you better than
God."
"Hush! you mustn't say that."
"Oh, but it's true! it's true!"
Her eyes were shining as if she beheld an unearthly
vision. "Oh, Eoghan! Eoghan! you've come; you've
come back at last." She edged between his arms, and
hungrily gazing on his face, leaned her head on his
shoulder and began to sob softly. A bird was calling,
calling upon the hill, where the grey little wind was purfling
among the trees. The song of the bird became a pain to
him.
"Barbara, dear! what is wrong?"
"I thought you were never, never going to come …
it's terrible … I don't know what has come over
grandad … I wish, oh, I wish he could cry!"
He ceased walking.
"What is it?" He had a premonition of disaster.
"That lawyer came — I shudder yet when I think of
him: he's so like an eel — and then, dear, your father.
Grandad hasn't been the same since. He doesn't seem
to hear when I speak to him; but keeps on muttering
about grandmother and some sort of doom. He says
the sign over the door must come down." Her lips were
pale, and they stood hand in hand, looking in at each
other's eyes in dread. "When I read the telegram you
sent he said you must not step below the sign again."
From where they stood the sign was visible. Swaying
in the little grey wind, its hand that held the dripping
dagger shook as with frenzy. Its mournful sound came to
their ears, cold-blooded, croaking. In a puff of the wind
it snarled as if in rage. The girl shivered as a cloud went
over the sun.
"I wonder what my father was doing there —" He
checked himself; he felt something sinister and unfathomable
gathering on his life, and thought of his
mother. "Were you there when my father came?" he
asked abruptly.
"I was upstairs … I think they were quarrelling."
She was withholding something, he felt.
"Barbara, tell me what you heard."
She lifted candid, trustful, yet frightened eyes to him.
"Grandad said to him, 'No! I'll hae nocht to do wi'
lawyers. I leave ye in the hands of God.'"
"And then?"
"Your father answered, 'I'll tak' the risk o' that.'"
"Ah! what a devil! what a devil!" By a prodigious
effort of will he recovered his calm. "Come," he went on,
"come with me to the 'Ghost'." He took her hand and
led her down the braeside above the burn, which they
crossed, walked along a fence, and came out through a
little gate at the back of the "Ghost," at the outhouse
where Gillespie used to keep his snares. They passed
round the gable-end, along the gable wall, to the corner
of the house. A flurry of wind blew in their faces, and
the girl bent her head; but Eoghan's eyes were riveted
on a sight that made the blood drain away from his heart.
Against the wall of the house was a ladder, which his
grandfather, hammer in hand, was climbing. His
shoulders were rounded into a hoop; his hair had grown
grey; his head was bare; the long grey locks were tossed
about by the wind. The girl lifted her eyes and shrieked:
"Grandfather, grandfather, you'll be killed!"
The old man continued to climb up, his eyes fixed on
the sign above, his mouth open, the blue-veined hand
clutching the hammer. The Bent Preen drifted up from
nowhere and stood, pricked out against the grey sea, in a
new pair of brown checked trousers, surveying the scene.
The old man never once withdrew his gaze from the sign;
but crept up as if he were on some clandestine business.
His earnestness emptied the heavens, the earth, and the
sea of all interest to the watchers; and the tremendous
silence was broken by the hammer ringing out on the
sign. The Bent Preen waved his arm. "Smash it down;
it's the flag o' the devil." His mocking laugh rivalled the
sound of the hammer. "Ha, ha, ha! Dick, I'd sook
whisky oot o' a dirty cloot; but I'm damned if I'd touch
that thing for a' the gold in the mint." Again the
metallic sound leapt out sharply — the sound of brass or
bronze. It appeared to enrage the old man, for the blows
now fell thickly, as if he were beating a tocsin. The gulls
screamed and flew out to sea. The old man's energy was
amazing. His head was thrown up, an expression of
the intensest hatred was on his face, and his lips, curled
back, gave him a savage appearance. The light glittered
on the sign where he had struck it; it was like a wound
on a negro's face. The wound seemed to outrage, to defy
the old man, who struck with redoubled fury, aiming blow
after blow at the painted dagger, till the hillside rang with
the clashing sounds. Those beneath heard his laboured
breathing — stertorous, panting in hot, quick sounds.
The girl's face, terror-stricken, was buried in her hands.
Something abysmal surrounded Eoghan. The sound of
those blows was coming out of a chasm of dead men's
bones, which rattled fiercely. He looked at Barbara, and
thought that his grandfather and she shared some secret
horror. He had a feeling of desolation, a sense of ruin.
An exhalation of the accursed drifted about the place.
"Oh, please, please, Eoghan, stop him! take him
down! The sounds; oh, they are bursting through my
ears!"
The old man's wrath was now demoniacal. He was
hewing, not at brass, but at some sombre fatality as he
gnashed his teeth and muttered between the short pants
of his breathing. The sweat dripped from over a pair
of blazing eyes. Eoghan swallowed his saliva, as if he
was swallowing cinders. "He'll kill me with that hammer
if I go up." He leapt at the ladder, and began to
run up on all fours, shouting, "Come down! come down!"
but his voice was swamped in the gulf of sound. The
rhythmical movement of the arm went on like a smith's
at the anvil. As the arm fell at a blow Eoghan shot
out his hand and gripped the wrist of the old man, who
glared down a look of malevolence. Again the hammer
swung up. Eoghan saw the steel head glinting in the
sun, and jerked his body across the ladder out of its track.
It crashed down on a rung. There was a splintering of
wood; the hammer fell to the ground; the ladder
violently jerked; swayed like a boat on the sea; began to
slide along the wall, slowly, then with accelerated motion;
and the next moment they were hurled to the ground,
the ladder astraddle across their bodies. Eoghan felt
something sharp and burning sting his forehead; sucked
something hot and salt, and knew it was blood. He opened
his mouth to drink again the pungent liquid, and slid into
a chasm of darkness, with a torrent of water roaring in
his ears. The weight of a mountain lay across his chest.
… Something cold and soft was on his forehead; but
his eyes were sealed with molten lead. He put up his
hand, and it was caught and held. What an intolerable
time it took to open his eyes! He was drawing light up
into them out of eternity. At last they sucked up the
light from the abyss, and he saw Barbara's face.
"Come in for a moment and rest."
Eoghan shook his head, and put out his, foot, feeling for
the step. He was stunned and blinded. Having groped
his way to the walk he turned, and asked in a low voice:
"When did he die?"
Mr. Campion considered. "About a month ago."
Eoghan felt suddenly overtaken by disaster, and, casting
a look of fear at the looming house, crept out of the
garden. Anxious to avoid public gaze, he passed along
the Back Street and down MacCalman's Lane, at the end
of which, at the corner of the Bank, the usual crowd of
fishermen were assembled. He hesitated and stopped,
timid of the passage into the fierce light of the Square.
Their conversation was about his accident and that of
his grandfather. Alert, he crouched against the wall.
They were talking now of his father — who would be glad
if the old man died; he would get his hands on the
"Ghost"; he meant to lock up his wife there. Every
cruel, careless word of scandal burned in Eoghan's brain.
"She's senseless wi' the booze. The Revivalists started
a new kind o' preachin' aboot the Judgment Day comin'
soon, an she put on the white dress she was mairrit in to
be pure, an' threw hersel' into the Hairbour. She was
floatin' away singin' in a wee crackit voice when Ned o'
the Horn jumpit in; an' what dae ye think Gillespa' said
to poor Ned? Your breeks were in need o' a cleanin',
Ned; ye can thank my wife for that at your leisure.'"
There was a boisterous outburst of laughter.
"It's as weel Ned's mairrit, or he'd soon get a lass."
The blood was drumming loudly in Eoghan's ears. He
recalled what he had overheard the tailor name his mother.
It was true, then; Oh, God, it was true. She was the
byword of the corners. He trembled so much that he
was afraid he would fall.
"She's only an auld bauchle o' a whüre."
Again the devilish, inane laughter. He had to suppress
a scream as he crept backwards along the wall.
"Unclean! unclean!" The words rang in his brain as
he crept in the gloaming along the Back Street, up the
brae past the school, and cast himself face down in
MacCalman's Park, digging his nails into the soil. "While
there's water to drown an' steel to wound, a Strang 'ill
no' die in bed." Where had he heard those words? he
could not remember. The face of the speaker loomed
bafflingly in a mist. "I must kill her; I must kill her;
it's the only way." Why had he not thought of this long
ago? Then a cunning thought came to him — he would
watch and seize her in her sin. The day had been dark,
with east wind; the night was now gloomy as he staggered
wearily to his feet. In the Back Street a thin rain fell
on him, and on the herring gutters of Gillespie, as they
trudged homeward. The chemist's shop was closed; the
blinds were drawn in his father's shop; the Square was in
semi-darkness; and the moonless Harbour was like a slab
of black granite. Eoghan loped across the Square, ran
through the close, and up the stair into the kitchen. It
was empty, and searched from corner to corner by the
shadowless light of the lamp. He heard his father moving
about in the shop below. Topsail, the pack-horse, was
evidently on some business of her master. It was
Gillespie's custom, when the Fox was gone into the country
with the horse, to dispatch Topsail with goods ordered by
his customers during the day. Horror left Eoghan faint.
He had determined to kill his mother; but how? "I shall
stand no longer in the horses' dung in the streets, our name
a common reproach," he thought. The empty kitchen
testified to her baseness. How long had she carried on
her nefarious trade? "We are disgraced, disgraced; I can
never walk in the streets again. Better for me to perish
too." He was in the midst of these maddening thoughts
when his mother entered, with a shawl about her head
Her face was flushed; her eyes hot and brilliant. He
walked straight up to her.
"Where have you been?"
She took the shawl from her head, and replied with a
weary gesture:
"Dearie me! nobody heeds me noo; Marget wouldn't
open the door."
"Mrs. Galbraith is at the 'Ghost,'" he replied fiercely.
Her delicate head swayed forward on her thin neck.
"What is she doing there?" she leered at him.
"Grandfather fell off a ladder and has taken a shock.
"Och! och! I've seen the shadow o' death. It passed
me by last night." These words, spoken in a mournful
tone, almost unmanned her son. She walked, shawl in
hand, to the dresser, turned her back on him, and slipped
a shilling in behind a large toddy bowl standing upright
in the corner. Eoghan, watching her closely, heard the
coin clink against the delf. He took a stride forward;
but before he could reach her she snatched up the coin.
He gripped her closed hand and opened it, displaying a
silver coin, slightly tarnished.
"Where did you get it?" He pointed with his
forefinger.
She laughed shrilly. "It might be frae ane o' thae
weary men." A cunning look came into her face and eyes
— the egomaniac's desire of confession, mingled with the
woman's fear of detection. "But Gillespie winna jaloose
that I got it out o' the till."
He knew that she lied. The hunted look on her face
betrayed her. A surge of madness swept over him.
"God Almighty! but this is the bonny pickle." He
snatched the coin from her. She pounced upon it with
a snarl, and missed it; her face became bewildered, bleak,
and pinched.
"I'll melt it," he cried, in mad rage. "I'll cut the cross
on it and melt it, and give it to my father to drink. He
doesn't like whisky."
She put the shawl up to her face, and peered at him over
its edge. "Ye winna clype on me."
He spat on the coin, rubbed it on the sleeve of his
jacket, and held it up.
"Did ye ever see a leper? Jesus Christ cleansed
them" — the surge of madness was blinding him; and his
words became guttural as his voice thickened — "Jesus
Christ cleansed them —" He swayed upon his feet, his
eyes burning on her face. "Oh, God! my heart's
broken." The wail rang through the kitchen like a
child's.
"What's wrong wi' ye?" She stretched out a thin
hand and moved towards him. He flung out his arm to
ward her off. His temples were ready to burst with the
throbbing of blood, and, recoiling from her against the
dresser, his arm slouched across the toddy bowl, which
rolled over and crashed in fragments at his feet. He
pawed blindly in the ruin.
"The b'ue bowl broken; that's no' chancy; it was
granny's. I'm feart something's goin' to happen."
He was appalled at this terrible detachment of mind.
She insisted on the triviality, making it gigantic. "It's
a peety the bowl's broken; granny gied it to me in a
marriage-present."
All the world, time, and space stood still for him in
that moment of utter hopelessness and despair. He
stared in stupor at this woman, who was his mother
no longer, but some one sprung from the loins of the
gods of malice, sent to torment him. She did not
know what fear or shame was, because such gods would
rend the firmament between their hands as paper, and
smile down upon the terror of mortals. Grief and panic
leave them passionless, and they sup upon woe. She
was their daughter. He heard her voice as of some one
far away, and could not connect her words. Her face
before him was dark, sinister, full of cunning — the face
of a sphinx that has looked out across a thousand battlefields
and calmly watched the vultures plunge their hot
beaks in dripping flesh. He believed in incarnate evil.
"When I cam' to him frae the Lonen' I'd a bonnie
tocher; he stealt that. I'm the daughter o' Lonen'.
I was in the College for young ladies. Mr. Campion was
in the College too; an' my son Iain's in the College. He's
to be a minister, wi' the fowk that quate sittin' lookin'
up at him. I can't stand Gillespie Strang. He won't
allow the minister to come an' see me." A dazed look
came over her face; she seemed to be staring at something
invisible. "Dearie me! I haven't seen a minister for
three years."
What was she saying? What right had a Sphinx to
have such bleary eyes? How stupidly her head sagged!
Why had such a graven image froth at the corners of her
mouth?
"Oh, my head, my head! it's liftin' off." She put
her hands up across her temples, pressing her fingers hard
on the top of her skull, and rocking her body with pain,
"I canna stand it; my head! my head! Will ye no' take
my life an' put me oot o' torture?"
Ha! her life! was he not there for that? but who
could slay such a daughter of malice? He watched her
mouth working constantly, as if she were gnawing on
something. The muscles of her face seemed to be jerked
from the inside by a concealed string, and a line of
chalky white edged her lips. She steadied herself by a
hand on the sink, and went backwards, collapsing on the
stool at the fire. Again the stupid look came over her
face, leaving her hollow eyes absolutely expressionless.
Those homes of tenderness and love were dead — blackened
embers of a lost fire. They gazed out upon the world
without a sense of pain or intelligence. They were
petrified in a face of stone. The hands alone possessed
life, as they plucked at her lap. This Sphinx began
rocking slowly to and fro, her knees twitching to the tune:
"O love, it is pleasin', love, it is teasin',
O love 'tis a pleasure when it is new —"
Hark to the voice of the ages singing, the voice that was
locked in eternal frost, the voice that would not scare
the ravening vultures from the slain. He laughed out
aloud, and she lifted sullen eyes.
"My voice is crackit. I used to be the best singer
in the Free Kirk."
He felt he was in a nightmare, and would waken anon.
"But as it grows older, the love it grows colder —"
She broke off. Every fuddled word was a dagger raw in
his heart. This must end. He approached her stealthily,
and suddenly displayed the shilling.
"Tell me," he snarled, shaking her by the shoulder,
"who gave it to you?"
She felt she was listening to a deadly enemy, and stared
at him fixedly to imprint the lineaments of the face of
her foe on her memory. Then she screwed her face into
an innocent look. "It's you, Eoghan; you broke the
b'ue bowl. It's a bad sign. Granny said it was in the
faimly since the Flood, an' something no' chancy wad
happen if it got brocken." Her forehead was seamed with
wrinkles; a chiding frown sat on her eyebrows.
"Tell me quick, by God!" — his voice broke with rage
and hatred — "tell me, till I kill him!"
Her face darkened with a surge of blood upon this
implacable enemy, and she attempted to struggle to her
feet. His hand caught in her hair, which tumbled on her
shoulders. This gave to her head a wild appearance;
and her breath stank in his face. "Oh, but I'm the bonny
ane, Lonen's daughter, among ye a'." She lurched across
the floor into the bedroom, sighing heavily. He heard
her fumbling in the dark. Presently she returned to the
threshold of the kitchen, and, watching her son with a
sly look, complained of a heavy, sickening smell in the
room, and babbled of poisoned lilies which she had eaten
in Marget's. Again she retreated to the bedroom; and
he heard the plunk of a cork. A mist grew before his eyes.
His heart was about to burst in his breast. He followed
her almost at a run. She was standing immediately
inside the threshold, where she could have her eye on the
kitchen, her figure ghostly in the stream of the lamp--
light. A half mutchkin bottle was in her hand; her head
was tilted back; and one eye, raging with demoniac light,
was on the doorway. Despair paralysed him. The
Sphinx face, smileless and bloodless, with cruelty in its
stony flesh and a hawk-like craftiness in the single wild,
wary eye, was devilish with its faint glitter of pleasure,
and fed with the damnable fiery liquid, which he heard
gurgling, gurgling. An insensate desire possessed him
to strangle that mocking glitter of the roving eye, to
stamp out for ever the evil in that grey, debauched face.
He leapt forward and swung his clenched fist. She saw
the danger, and, before he could avoid it, the whisky
bottle crashed between his eyes. He was stung, temporarily
blinded and maddened with the pain. The fist
continued its curve through the air as he reeled back;
he felt its impact upon bone, and a dirl go up his arm.
He had struck her on the side of the head. He swung his
arm a second time, but there was no evil eye, no sinister
face before him. The stench of the spilled whisky,
pungent in his nostrils, restored him completely to reality.
With heaving breast he stood looking down at her;
listened to her low moaning, and realised that she was
alive. He heaved a sob of relief, and got down on his
knees beside her, unconscious of the scalding of the whisky
in his eyes. Tears mingled with the alcohol. He became
the victim of unbounded remorse; and his knees quivered
so much that he was forced to sit upon the floor by her
side. The silence of the room was now as the silence of
death. The voice of the sea rose up hungrily across the
Square and entered the room. Its voice was as the voice
of one who had seen and cried aloud that there are things
which cannot be kept out of the most secret place. He
murmured her name; at first in anguished accents, then,
as her eyelids quivered and her eyes opened, in caressing
tones. He lifted her head upon his knees, stroked her
raven hair, and watched with hungry gaze every movement
of her eyes. They were leaden and dull, and her
lips were bloodless. She seemed deaf to his entreaties.
The lines of pain and debauchery, which had vanished
from her face, gradually crept back again, as by stealth.
Her mouth was pathetically open, like a babe's, and she
began to speak a meaningless jumble, in which the names
Campion and Marget recurred. "How did I do it? how
did I do it?" played like a shuttle of flame through his
brain. "I am almost a murderer." Horror shook him
like a leaf in the blast. The darkness and the world
without were full of stern, watchful eyes. She may die
yet. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead. He
scanned her face with a famished look. She was babbling
of the strangest things in a whispering voice; a spate of
broken images ravaged her brain. She was going to
London to see the crown jewels. Would Campion not give
her a peacock's feather for her hat to go to church? "I
haven't seen the minister for three years." Iain was in
prison; she was milking cows at Lonend; she was
gathering flowers in the meadows there for Marget's room.
He bent over her, consumed with pity. Suddenly she
began to weep, complaining of pain in her back. He
tried to relieve her by easing her position; and at this
juncture Topsail appeared, breathless from her hurry.
With a sense of unspeakable relief, he shouted, "My poor
mother has fallen and hurt herself." Topsail snatched up
the kitchen lamp.
"Mercy me, laddie; your face is a' ower wi' blood."
"Never mind me; get her to bed, quick."
They lifted her on to the bed, and Topsail, unlaced
her boots, ordered him from the room. "It's no' a place
for you," she said, with a kind, pitying glance; "she's in
wan o' her black turns."
He waited in the dark kitchen till his patience
was exhausted, and, returning to the room, found
Topsail sitting in the bed behind his mother, who
lay, with her knees hunched up to her chin, between
Topsail's legs. In the night-dress she looked gaunt and
wasted to the bone; her face like clay, her head hung
limply to one side. Pain had engraved its lines once more
on her face, and the deeply sunk eyes looked out at him
above the lantern jaws strangely, as if she were a being
of another race from a remote world. The lower teeth
protruded on the upper lip, giving to the mouth a slack,
cadaverous expression. She had the appearance of a
famished animal. On her hand, stretched along the
coverlet, he could trace the line of the bone whitening
along the back of the wrist. He seemed to be looking
upon a skeleton, and shook with fear — a skeleton that was
moaning. "I never thocht I'd come to this — a sair, sair
bed."
"My God!" he whispered hopelessly, "is she going to
die?"
Topsail shook her head, indicating her hopelessness.
"We're a' puir things when it comes to this — puir things
in a Higher Hand."
"Ay! rub me there below the shoulders. Oh! Oh!
it gangs through me like a knife!" He fell on his knees at
the bedside and took her hand, which was icy cold.
"Will the Almighty no' gie me peace one hour, that I'll
can win a wee sleep?"
"I'll go for Maclean." He jumped to his feet.
Topsail shook her head. "It's wan o' the black turns.
Gie her wan o' thae white pooders." She directed him
where to find them. "She's no' to get ower many, the
doctor said, in case she sleeps awa'."
He prepared the powder, and held the tumbler to her
lips.
"Oh! Oh! it's goin' through me like lances, something's
teirin' inside me." She swallowed the liquid, gasping
over it. "Rub me, rub me." Topsail leaned back and
began rubbing her between the shoulder-blades. "Oh,
the drouth, the drouth! my tongue's like leather."
He hurried and brought her water. Finding it cool
at her lips, she raised her deep, sunken eyes and, gripping
the tumbler, mouthed it in her eagerness, and drank
ravenously. He turned his eyes from the sickening sight,
and heard her make little sounds of gladness at each
gulp.
"Take a little more, mother."
"No, no! I've drank what wad do the hale toon.
Oh! Oh! I feel as if I'm drawn separate. If the Almighty
wad only gie me one wee hour. I haven't asked muckle
o' Him a' my days —
She now lay silent, belching wind; then moaned again:
"Och, och! the sweat; the caul sweat's lashin' ower me."
Her head fell a little more awry against Topsail's knee;
her breathing became regular. In a little she opened her
eyes and gazed vacantly round the room.
"Dearie me! lyin' sae muckle on my heid, I'm losin'
my memory," she said.
Topsail nodded to him, smiling cheerily. "She's got
ower 't, puir sowl." The white powder had done its
work. His mother was fast asleep between the legs of her
faithful slave.
CHAPTER XIII
THAT night Eoghan was crushed by anxiety, and existed
in a saturnalia of horror. The curtains of the window
could not keep out the choking night or the gloom of old
haunted forests which was in the room. A foreboding of
evil was every moment about to be realised — a misshapen
thing of fear about to rise up before him in vindictive,
inexorable rage. His anguish became frenzied. He was
like a man in a desert surrounded in the night by prowling
beasts, whose sinister roar was every moment about to
burst on his ear. He shuddered as he thought of the
bewildering depths to which human nature can sink.
His mother's face swam up before him — a marble face
in which the only sign of life was the pain-drenched eyes.
His hatred and his loathing were gone, along with the
desire to slay her, and his heart, heavy within him, pitied
her. At last, overcome by fatigue, he fell asleep, and
dreamed that his mother and he were gathering flowers
in the meadows of Lonend. He brought the flowers in
armfuls — lilies, and lilies of the valley, and wild violets,
wet with dew — and strawed them on her dressing-table,
on the floor, on the bed; everywhere he filled her room
with their perfume; and the canaries sang from the
ceiling; and the sanctity of the fragrance, and the richness
of the bird-song defended her, and kept her feet from
wandering in the night. Then he saw her lying in a
coffin, with the flowers he had gathered heaped about her
— pale lilies in her hair, lilies of the valley on her breast,
and the canaries stunned and mute in their cages. She
smiled up at him with the assured smile of death, with the
peace that laughs at shame, and which the gloomy sound
of the sea shall never break. The noise of the sea —
surely it was loud in his ears …. He was awake, bathed
in sweat. For a moment he lay supine within the doors
of the dream, hoping it was true — that outrage, indecency,
shame, oppression were for ever at an end, that the trump
of God had sounded and the supreme hour had come.
Beneath his window a drunken voice was singing:
"Oh, Donal'! Oh, Donal'!
Drink your glens, lad, an' gang awa' hame,
For if ye tarry langer ye'll get a bad name;
Ye'll get a bad name, sae fill yersel' fou'.
The lang wad's sae dreary, but I'll see you through."
He groaned. Nothing was changed. Another day of
weariness and horror had broken.
She was up at the breakfast-table along with Topsail.
He was astonished at his mother's hardiness. She seemed
to smile at misfortune and defy prostration. Her face,
though unbroken, had the appearance of being scarred.
Earlier that morning her moods had bewildered Topsail.
She had come into the kitchen, her hair adorned with a
bright artificial flower, which she had discovered while rummaging
in the parlour, and, getting down on her knees, began
to wash the floor. Topsail protested, but her mistress informed
her that it was by the doctor's orders. Half-way
through her task she desisted, feigning a vomiting. She
had forgotten the tawdry decoration nodding grotesquely
in her hair, and Topsail snatched it away when she heard
Eoghan's footstep in the passage.
His mother, who sat by the fire at the head of the table,
with a spent look, seemed to have forgotten the incident
of the previous night. She wakened up to say to Eoghan
that he ought to marry Barbara. Her voice was hoarse,
probably the effect of her wandering about in all sorts of
weather. He was amazed, and, flushing deeply, asked her
her reason for this exhortation; but she had lapsed again
into silence. The fact is she had conceived that Mr.
Campion was in love with Barbara, and a blind rage
against Eoghan, who did not express instant willingness
to marry the girl, possessed her. She arose, and suddenly
snatching the kettle from the hob, poured some of its
boiling water on Eoghan's hand. He jumped up, smarting
with pain and convulsed with rage, but was unable to
utter a word at sight of his mother's apathetic face. She
appeared to be unconscious of her treacherous deed.
Topsail hastened with soap and a cloth.
"I'm going for Maclean," he said; "she's mad."
At the mention of the doctor's name she became highly
cunning, protesting that her health was good. Eoghan
showed her his bandaged hand, and taxed her with her
folly. She lied audaciously, and battered down irrefragable
proof. In fact, she was not so much guilty of
lying, as that the memory of her crimes became rapidly
dim. Eoghan was aghast, and, hurrying across the
Square, asked Kyle to send the doctor to examine his
mother. When Maclean arrived in the afternoon, she
was openly perspicacious. He instructed Topsail that
her mistress was not to be allowed out at night, and must
constantly be watched. He was no sooner gone than, in
a violent fit of passion, Mrs. Strang smashed a pot with the
poker, attempted to tear off her clothes, and accused her
son of inducing the doctor to perform a highly dangerous
operation on her person, with a view to taking away her
life. She now conceived an intense hatred for Eoghan,
and cloaked it by informing Topsail that he was seriously
ill, and could not live very long. She spoke these
words in a whisper, creeping stealthily to Topsail's ear,
exhibiting every sign of sorrow and beginning to weep.
Topsail, to console her, scouted the idea, and her mistress,
desiring Topsail to kiss her, suddenly bit the servant on
the neck. Her countenance was perturbed and her eyes
wild, as she retreated to the stool at the fire, where she
sunk into a state of gloomy torpor, and preserved this
obstinate taciturnity for the rest of the afternoon, rousing
herself only to complain of intense thirst, and opening her
mouth to show Topsail how hard and dry were her palate
and her tongue. She screamed out in her servant's face
that she was being strangled, and Topsail, beside herself,
appeased her by giving her a large quantity of whisky.
When Gillespie came upstairs for tea — he had reverted
to the practice of taking his meals in the house since the
return of Eoghan — he asked Topsail to fetch his spectacles
from the bedroom. He wore these now in the evenings
when poring over his books. Topsail returned without the
spectacle case. The events of the day had left her stupid.
"I saw a licht like the licht o' a can'le dancin' on the
bed. It gied wan blink an' went oot," she said, with awe.
"Noäne o' thae noänsense in my hoose." Gillespie's
voice was louder than usual, and he jerked Topsail by
the arm into a chair. "Sit doon, will ye; ye're loitered."
"Wheest, Gillespie." His wife touched him on the sleeve.
"Is it no' a warnin'? I dreamt last night that the hoose
was in confusion an' granny's b'ue bowl was brocken.
Eoghan's no' lookin' weel." She trailed away, wringing
her hands, and passed into the next room, where they
heard her searching with frantic hands about the bed.
Gillespie rose with horrible quietness, his upper lip slightly
drawn up in a snarl, walked round the table, his head
butting forward, and, tip-toeing towards Topsail, clenched
his fist. Neither spoke a word. As if turned to stone
Topsail awaited the blow. Looking down into her mute,
uplifted eyes, he struck her full on the face. Without
sound or moan her head fell across the back of the chair,
and blood oozed from her mouth. Gillespie raised his
clenched hand a second time; but his wife appeared from
the room crying shrilly, "I hear the death-watch tick,
tick, tickin'."
Slowly the clenched fist opened; the arm dropped
heavily to the side, and at the voice of her mistress
Topsail opened her eyes, which fell full on Gillespie.
"Janet," he said slowly, "my he'rt's roasted for
Eoghan." Topsail's eyes smiled faintly. "I owe ye
twa — three years' wages;" and turning on his heel, he
rapidly walked away to relieve Sandy the Fox, custodian
of the shop.
His son was standing in the shop in the scud of the
light, gazing into nothingness, and Gillespie, with a fierce
heart-hunger, furtively watched him. The face was
deplorably thin and white and full of sorrow.
"I dinna think ye're as weel as ye micht be, Eoghan."
Gillespie deprecated this interest with a soft laugh.
"Gang an' pack your pockmanty an' off to Edinboro' the
morn for a jaunt."
"It's too late for that." The mournful words troubled
Gillespie.
"Are ye no' feeling weel?" A deep tide, long throttled,
was rising up within Gillespie. "Ye'd better gang,
Eoghan; dinna heed for siller."
Eoghan shuddered. "Keep your money."
The tone in which those words were uttered brought
a sense of guilt home to Gillespie. It is from the top of
the hill of iniquity that the mountain of righteousness is
best discerned. Gillespie saw that peak all the more
glorious, that it was receding for ever.
"Here I stay till death gives me release." The words
burst out of his son's breast in despair, and Gillespie
became terrified, feeling his world melting away beneath
the dews of death. He thrust his face nearer his son's.
What he saw there made him recoil.
"Son! son!"
At this cry of misery the son gazed at the father with
all his broken heart in his eyes, and moaning, "Oh, God!
I am weary," staggered against the counter — that altar
where so many hearts had been broken. A draught from
the back door swirled through the shop. Mrs. Strang
appeared. It was years since she had been there. While
seated in the kitchen she had suddenly fancied that her
husband's business was going to ruin for want of her help
and supervision.
"What's wrang noo?" The tone was full of petulance,
and she nodded, as if in answer to an unheard voice, as she
reeled forward between father and son. "Maggie Shaw
has a baby" — there was a whimpering smile on her face.
Gillespie made a hard, swallowing sound, and looked over
her shoulder at his son.
"I'm coaxing Eoghan to tak' a jaunt to Edinboro'," he
said, wetting his lips with his tongue.
"Dearie me! dearie me! I was at school there."
"He's no' lookin' ower herty on't."
"Poor Eoghan! poor Eoghan!" She began to weep.
"He's no' himsel' at a'. He'll soon be by wit. Ay! its
a bonnie place, Edinboro'." She smiled with infinite
cunning at her husband.
"Mother and me will go," sobbed the boy.
"Weel! weel!" Gillespie's face shone. "If ye want
your mother we'll manage till you win back."
"It'll be a long journey, mother." He left the counter
— another heart had been laid upon that altar — and passed
behind her out of the shop. Gillespie gripped his wife
by the shoulder. "Get him to gang wi' ye, an' I'll gie
ye a new dress." She leered, licking her bluey lips.
"Dae ye hear, wumman," — he shook her violently — "my
life's scaddit every time I look at his face." She cowered
away from his hand, and made a mocking sound and a
sardonic grimace.
CHAPTER XIV
WHEN Mrs. Strang's head was very bad she complained
of deafening thunder, and one afternoon awoke out of
her lethargic state and mourned that the Square was full
of bleating sheep, which she insisted on herding to the
folds of Lonend. She spat in Topsail's face when her
servant laid a restraining hand upon her, and then attempted
to lick the spittle. Topsail Janet was bewildered,
for that afternoon her mistress had evinced deep concern
for her servant's rheumatism, which was very painful with
the winter sleet. Mrs. Strang suggested a dozen cures,
and would not be hindered from rubbing Topsail's knuckles
with turpentine and tying on bandages of flannel. Topsail
was thoroughly happy at this. "Hoo can I get
through my work wi' thae cloots on my hand?" she cried
merrily.
"There's no work, Janet, wi' Iain in the jyle."
Topsail, alarmed at the answer, submitted to the
ministrations in silence; and her mistress wept for her
servant's suffering. "You've more to thole than me,
Janet, far more; you've burnin' nettles on your hands,"
and almost as she looked pityingly at her servant her talk
became very loose, and was accompanied by silly grimaces.
It turned on her marriage and on sexual things. Her
colour ran high; she became excited, and began to search
the rooms. Eoghan, coming up the stair — he seldom went
out now by day — heard her in a hoarse voice telling Topsail
that Mr. Campion was concealed somewhere in the
house. The name of this gentleman was frequently on
his mother's lips, but speculation as to the reason was cut
short by the tragic spectacle of his mother's distress. She
was wandering through the house wringing her hands, and
moaning that the breath of dogs was on her face — would
no one give her a hatchet to kill them? — and there was
fire in the sleet.
"Good God! this is terrible!" he groaned to Topsail.
"Ay! ay! she's fair distractit. Goäd keep her."
Mrs. Strang backed away from her bedroom, complaining
of an offensive smell there, due, she repeated over and
over, to a dead rat. Topsail tried to coax her with a cup
of tea, but she refused it, saying there was no taste in
food. She tottered as she walked, fell in the passage
as she was making for the parlour, and betrayed no sign
of pain. She caught Topsail's hands when they lifted
her up and laid them on her breast. "Oh, Janet! Janet!
my heart is as heavy as lead, an' my breasts are like ice."
Topsail led her to the kitchen stool, where she began to
babble of her husband's business. It would fall to pieces
without her control; for want of her ministrations the
cattle in the byre at Lonend were dying. She got up and,
passing to her room, began to rummage in the drawers.
"Iain's starvin' o' cold in the jyle; he hasna a stitch to
put on." She turned out a welter of old things, sat in
their midst, staring fatuously, and playing with a piece
of black ribbon as a child amuses itself with a toy.
Eoghan, seated at the kitchen fire, was faint with
palpitation. The unspeakable calamity which he was
witnessing was slowly killing him. He felt as if red-hot
chains bound his body, which the next moment became
icy cold. His mother reappeared in the kitchen, a
distraught look on her face, and catching sight of the sleet
on the roof of the washing-house, moaned:
"Ring the bell, Janet; ring the bell an' tell me when
the snow is gone; its full o' fire." She harped on this
with weary iteration, till Eoghan, groaning and gnawing
on his lip, ran through the kitchen and to the ree, and
asked Sandy the Fox to go and sweep the coating of snow
from the washing-house roof. By this time his mother
had forgotten her terror of the snow, and attempted to
rise from her chair. "I can't go, Janet: my legs are
as heavy as lead." Topsail took her by the arm. "No!
no! my body's swelled so big; I can't get through the
door." She planted her feet firmly and refused to
move.
So it went on day by day. Her will power had ceased
to operate. Wandering in shadows, and seeing as through
clouds, she was completely indifferent to the moral
necessity in human nature. Repulsive deeds exercised
a peculiar fascination over her. Topsail Janet caught
her one day perfectly naked descending the outside stair.
Sleet was falling and melting on her skin; but she seemed
impervious to the rawness of the atmosphere. She contracted
a cold, which shook her in spasms of coughing, and
she began to spit blood. She became rapacious for drink,
which Maclean had strictly forbidden. She resorted to
the most cunning methods, sending messages to the driver
of the mail-coach to bring whisky from Ardmarkie. The
bottle she concealed among the dross in the coal cellar in
the washing-house. Her violent outbursts scared Topsail,
whom she terrorised into procuring whisky, declaring she
would burn down the house. On her knees Topsail implored
her mistress, promising her anything in the world.
She looked at Topsail Janet maliciously, and suddenly
jerking her head forward attempted to fasten her teeth
in Topsail's throat. The servant, beside herself, gripped
the maniac by the arms, forced her back in her seat, and
held her there till the rigidity of her body relaxed, and she
wilted up into a pitiable huddle. The two women,
breathing fast, gazed in at each other's eyes; Mrs. Strang,
with a look of hatred at Topsail, whose face was bleached
with fear. Her mistress, pointing a malicious forefinger,
burst into sardonic laughter, which was cut short by a
severe fit of coughing. This poor creature was a spectacle
of pity for all eyes, human and divine.
The next day she poured forth a torrent of calumny
against her servant, her husband, and her son, and watching
her opportunity, when Topsail was in the coal cellar,
stole across the Square to Kyle's shop. Eyeing him
furtively she asked for poison. She could not remember
the name of any specific poison, but said it was for rats.
Kyle gave her a bottle of water coloured with cochineal,
which she concealed in her pocket. Extremely affable to
Topsail, she dispatched her to the bedroom for a comb,
and immediately emptied the contents of the bottle into
a pot of potato soup. At the dinner-hour she feigned
sickness, and sat watching narrowly her husband and son
as they ate, and she chattered so incessantly and rationally
that Eoghan thought the cloud had lifted from her mind.
After dinner she kept whispering to Topsail that her
husband and son looked to be in a wretched state of
health, and that they could not live long. She showed no
surprise at finding them still alive the next day. She
imagined that poison could not destroy them.
The horror of his life banished sleep from Eoghan.
The grey light of the dawn would find him wide-eyed,
snatching back his mother's words, gestures, looks, and
magnifying them till she became a grotesque, gibbering
apparition of dread. He trembled at the light of the
morning, and the pitiableness of his life made him bury
his face in the pillow in a fury of despair. He envied
Topsail when he heard her ryping out the ashes in the
kitchen grate in the grey dawn. His mother, so hopelessly
incompetent, debauched, and now mad, was a power
embattled overwhelmingly against him. He had given
up his darling dreams of the cloisters; his ideals were
smeared as with the slime of a serpent; chains were
loaded upon him. He leapt from bed. A blue mist lay
on the Harbour, which was brittle and still as glass.
Everything in the mist had a dim, indescribable softness,
and the boats were but half seen through the veil as in a
magic land. A garment of hoar-frost clothed the hills.
The still beauty of the morning, hanging as from the
heavens, took him by the throat. A robin with bold,
flamboyant breast lit on the window-sill, and cocked up a
bright eye at him. He went to the kitchen for crumbs
to feed the tiny life, and watched with pity the blood-red
breast swell and flit away.
He had not visited the "Ghost" for days. He would
go now, before Brieston was astir. His grandfather was
totally paralysed on the right side, and mumbled so
thickly that no one could understand him. Maclean had
warned Mrs. Galbraith that the shock was likely at any
time to be followed by another, which would probably
prove fatal. Mrs. Galbraith and Barbara, on alternate
nights, sat up with the old man.
Barbara admitted him. They looked at each other
sorrowfully as he took her in his arms. She was parched
with vigil.
"He's had a peaceful night," she said, in a heavy voice,
and, turning aside to the window, added: "Look,
Eoghan dear, the day is breaking over the hills."
"Yes, breaking; breaking in eternal pain," he
answered mournfully.
There was no talk of love between them whom suffering
and grief had united as man and woman. Hand in hand
they stood at the window, and saw the trees near the
house on the burnside shiver in the dawn-wind, and the
great hills march on at the head of the Loch, mile upon
mile of imperturbable majesty, to meet the kindling
light. The spectacle wrung a profound sigh from the
depths of his breast — the purity, the peace, the strength,
the beauty and calm of the high places of God. He
turned to the girl and tenderly dismissed her. " Go
to bed, Barbara, you're worn out. I'll wait for Mrs.
Galbraith."
She held up her mouth, as a child, to be kissed. Hour
after hour she had sat attentive upon the grey face sunk
in the pillow, and her soul was one incessant prayer
to the God of life and death. He had housed her as
a dove in a nest; had named to her the names of goodness,
purity, and love. The days he had made gentle
for her with a solicitude that was almost maternal.
His hand had been upon her, a refuge and a support,
from the hour in which death had darkened her home.
She had lived in happiness and peace in the shadow
of his age. With great sorrow she recognised that something
noble and sweet, redemptive, solacing, and protective,
was passing away from her for ever in lonely,
unuttered agony. Often she retired to the foot of the
bed to weep silently there. Her body became sapless;
her hair dry and brittle, her face grievously wasted and
pale. In the watches of the night she felt that old, sullen
death was creeping stealthily towards the bed. A granite
mass of despair crushed her, and sinking on her knees she
would lay her face on the coverlet with an unuttered
poignant cry: "Grandad! Grandad! my heart is breaking!"
and the eyes that were inflexible upon the ceiling
would sweep tenderly upon the bowed head; but sorrow,
prostrate upon its altar, would lose the benediction.
Prone beneath the talons of anguish, she would miss the
holy breathing of those eyes.
She turned from Eoghan and, approaching the bed, put
her arms gently beneath the old man's head, and kissing
him on the brow and cheek, said, "Good-bye, grandad,
for a wee whilie." The eyes, having followed her hungrily
to the door, returned to their vigil on the ceiling. Eoghan
sat by the bed; but the old man never attempted to move
or speak. He seemed plunged in profound, unclouded
dreams. The eyes had the upward, unwavering look that
belongs to the dead. Day will mingle with the twilight
and night roll into the morning; but nothing on earth will
evoke the voice already summoned into silence, or restore
from the dusk to those grey eyes the light which had gone
out thence in a wild sunset. The bitterness of Eoghan's
cup was full. He scarce heard Mrs. Galbraith when she
came down at seven o'clock and began the day by reading
to the old man the mighty words, "'Who shall separate us
from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress,
or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or
sword? —'" and when she had finished the sublime
passage in a voice broken by emotion: "'For I am persuaded
that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able
to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus
our Lord,'" the old man moved his left arm off the coverlet
and muttered unintelligibly with a despairing force of
energy. Eoghan thought that his heart would burst in
his breast and, unable to control himself, ran out of the
room.
CHAPTER XV
GILLESPIE slept now in the parlour, because he was
disturbed by his wife, who would get up either to search
the room for vermin or to look for dead babies. Topsail
Janet had the greatest difficulty in understanding what
she said. She complained of bells ringing in her head, and
that she saw the faces of the dead following her about;
but chiefly that she was spied upon by husband and son,
who meant to take her life for her crimes. Some dark
night they were going to throw her into the Harbour.
This was now her constant dread. "In two weeks I'll
be drowned," she whispered to Topsail Janet. She
determined that her enemies must be put out of the way.
She was unable to endure their persecution any longer.
For the past two days she had been sunk in a stupor,
in which she had only spoken once, in a refusal to go to
bed, on which lay a dead child to which she had given
birth. Eoghan had heard her say this, and was almost
mad himself when she stuttered, "Is Mr. Campion no'
comin' to see his baby?"
The words kept repeating themselves in his brain. He
thought nothing now of the scandal that seethed and
blistered at the corners and the "Shipping Box" —
"Gillespie's wife's makin' a caul' bed o't." He had
passed beyond that — Brieston and its malevolent eyes,
and its malice hissing into his life. For him the throne of
the Deity had receded into an abyss, and a stony God
gloomed down from the height of eternity, on whose marmoreal
breast there was a hollow, where He had leaned
over his eyrie from the ages of the ages. Of late he had
ceased to think of or hope in the Deity. His soul was
broken up in a vast ruin. He saw a large, impassive,
determinate hand in the heavens shaking a dagger,
beneath which the accurst, the tainted, and the innocent
alike were driven. "'The gods of wrath are in the
sun —' Good God!" he cried out, "I'm laughin',
I'm laughin'; I'm goin' mad." He ran to the mirror and
stared at his face. It was drained to a livid whiteness,
and subtly underwent a transformation. He was looking
in upon the very lair of life. "That's not me," he
whispered in fear. "Eoghan! oh, Eoghan!"
Completely exhausted from want of food that day,
want of sleep and the torment of thought, he fell back on
the bed, hoping that he might die in his sleep. It was
now the grey dusk of the last day of the year. At first
he slept as if in lead, so utterly wearied he was, and was
disturbed by dream after dream. He was being carried
off on wild horses with cometary manes threshing the
heavens. He began to babble of gibbets which he saw,
and chains of lightning frozen by a supernatural cold, and
a multitude of priests droning of hell. He fell sheer down
one cavern of smooth black walls into another fiery with
waves of flame. The flames lit up axes with bloody edges
hanging from a ceiling. Like a stone he dropped through
the running flames into a thick dark river which, to his
horror, he found was black, clotted blood. A loud booming
arose out of this bottomless world, and a rain of bloody
sweat from the Gethsemane of humanity fell thick on the
black river and congealed. Cries of the damned ascended
in sulphurous clouds. Rain! blood! disease! contagion!
flame! and he screamed out in answer: "Oh,
naked soul, this is a wild place!"
He was sitting up in bed, his heart hammering violently
against his ribs, having forgotten for the moment where
he was. The day had been sunless and stormy, and the
thick, solemn night had fallen as if it were the last night
in the world. The wind leapt with quick claps over the
Harbour, and its noise was upon the Quays, the Harbour
wall, the streets, the house. It whined away over the
hills, dying beyond human confines. He suddenly remembered
what awaited him, his vigil and his anguish,
and was filled with a mournful sense of the vastness and
futility of life, and a great inscrutable Presence standing
over it, calm as the dead. In a flash he saw the tall policeman
in Argyll Street directing the traffic of Glasgow, and
flower girls in the blue, greasy mud of the city, blind men
groping with their dogs, ambulance vans hurrying, strange
women hovering at the doors of theatres. Why did these
things come to him? Was he going mad? And Mr.
Kennedy's face, grave and white, shining out of clouds;
and swinging high up in the dark the red cross of the
ambulance vans, and beneath the cross, over an incarnadined
world, the pierced feet of the Redeemer, august
in His torment. Wave upon wave of darkness swept
over his soul. A vast shutter opened on a gulf; an ebon
wall rolled out of this gulf on silent wheels; and as it
was about to whelm him, with a crest of jet foam it
suddenly contracted into a cone-shape which, entering
his body, spread fan-wise over his soul, smothering him
in an inky cloud. He began to weep softly. The
titanic wall of pitch rolled from his shoulders over the
stump of a pier, to sink into the sea like a black mist.
Again the shutters of the dark moved swiftly, pulled
upwards by an invisible hand, and another inky wall
stalked up from the abyss, rolling on wheels of dense smoke.
He felt blinded. The wheels of smoke rolled down upon
him with slow, roaring ponderousness. Would the Eternal
Mercy never relieve the gloom? Those wheels would
crush him into pulp. The sea over the stump of pier sent
up peal after peal of demoniac laughter. It had waited
for him, ever waited, with its horrible eyes of fire, since
he was a boy. He was running from it past the "Ghost."
He had run this way before, when his mother had gathered
up Iain beneath the eyes of the Magdalene out of the hollow
deep. A lightning flash blinded him, and he opened his
eyes. Good God! he was dreaming again; and, sitting
up in bed, he shook himself like a dog bewildered.
Thunder suddenly roared about the house. He jumped
from bed and ran into the parlour. The Square was
brilliantly lit, and loud with the roystering voices of the
"first foots" preparing to bring in New Year. It was
Hogmanay night, or "wee Setterday," and the shops
would be open late. Even children, undismayed by
the growling heavens, were singing the swan-song of
the year. Their voices floated up to him from the
Square:
"Hogmanay, Hogmanay;
If ye'll no' gie's oor Hogmanay
We'll break your door before the day."
He, too, had sung that song from door to door for a
piece of bun or an orange.
"Rise up, auld wife, an' shake your feathers,
Dinna think that we are beggars.
We are only boys an' girls
Come to seek our Hogmanay."
Tears blinded him. It seemed only yesterday that he
had struck the tents of boyhood. The childish voices
became unbearable:
"This is wee Setterday,
Next day's cock-a-law."
Never, never more, his breaking heart was crying; those
voices were tearing at his heart:
"We'll come back on Monday
An' gie ye a' a ca' —"
Shrill and gleeful rang the carolling through the Square.
Again the unappeasable yearning to mingle with them,
to be a boy again! Ah! little children, you, the begetters
of dreams, who turn men's hearts to water as they
listen, and flood the bare trees of age with green, what
anguish your joyance and innocence can cause to those
burdened with remorse! What a sense of estrangement
you bring to men, with your wonderful immunity from
life and its vicissitudes! What despair you can cause
as you tramp out of the Square, careless of the thundering
skies, and leave one stripped of all hope, staring across
the lights of the Square into the gulf of the night, with a
deeper gulf of darkness surrounding his soul.
The kitchen was empty. He shook with dread at the
discovery. "She must be with Janet; she must be with
Janet," he thought. He was about to discover something
quite different. That morning Topsail had been at the
wash-tub. She had steeped the things the day before, and
towards noon had hung out the clothes in the back green,
where the cats congregate, and as the north wind ruffled
her hair she dreamt beneath the line of a merry baker
taking in the New Year, playing upon a flute. She saw
Maclean pass up the stair. What a man he was! Pat,
his driver, had told Jeck the Traiveller how he had
gone in the face of a snowstorm to a case of child--
birth.
"Two lives depending on us; give the mare hell an'
get her through." He had to crawl through the snow--
drifts to the shepherd's door.
Topsail gazed with adoring eyes at the man who went
through the snow to bring babies into the world. He
came out again with Gillespie, and stood on the stair--
head, looking so stern that Topsail trembled.
"Is she failin' that sair?" she heard Gillespie ask.
Maclean, who had found her pulse feeble and rapid,
made no answer. He pulled out his watch and looked at
the dial. He was still looking when Topsail heard him
say, "The spring flowers will be growing over her head."
Topsail felt her knees giving way beneath her, and saw
the top of the house rising and falling upon a suddenly
darkened sky.
"God keep us a'; an' Ne'er Day the morn. A sair,
sair Ne'er Day it'll be," she moaned.
In the afternoon Sandy the Fox and she carried in the
clothes, because it was unlucky to leave them out over
the last night of the year. The Fox informed her that
after tea she must go with a basket of things to West
Loch Brieston. This was in spite of Maclean's instructions
to Gillespie that his wife must be narrowly watched.
It was after eight o'clock before Topsail Janet was able
to set out obscurely by the Back Street. As soon as she
had left, her mistress, who had not spoken all day, passed
swiftly down the stair and along the passage to the coal.
cellar in the washing-house where, among the coal-dross,
she was in the habit of concealing her whisky bottle.
McAskill, the lawyer, was on the watch for her. He had
given Lonend's money to six of the poor of Brieston for the
last two years, that they might pay the Poor Rates. They
had received no receipt from Gillespie. In order to have
absolute proof of Gillespie's guilt it was necessary to see
his books; and there was no other way than by bribing
his wife.
Eoghan, who had come out to the stair-head, heard a
man's querulous voice at the end of the passage. It froze
his blood. He could not distinguish what was being said,
and began to tremble violently. At last! what devilish
infamy and shame! Did these hounds not know that his
poor mother was insane? Wide-eyed, open-mouthed with
horror, he clung to the railing. His faintness had left
him; a river of fire was in his veins; and he saw in the
air streaks like blood. A great stone seemed to hang
suspended aloft, ready to drop and crash through the
monstrous silence. He thought he distinguished his
mother's voice — a voice full of unutterable weariness, the
voice of one mercilessly beaten upon her knees — and he
began to gnaw on his lower lip, seeing the twin doors of
hell flung wide open, and the sheeted dead arising out of
their graves beneath the church on the hill.
He began to creep clown the stairs.
"Listen — what that's?" He heard the sibilant words
distinctly; it was the voice of the serpent lawyer. Eoghan
drew in a deep breath, filling his lungs, and, dropping on
all fours, started crawling along the passage.
"You'll get the money on Monday — a pound." The
words came of a seething pit, arid set his brain on fire
as with hot pincers. A wild laugh broke the silence —
his mother's terrible laugh.
"Shut up, can't you? or I'll be off. I'm here long
enough already."
A fiend seemed to pin Eoghan to the causey for a
moment; the next he rose up like one in a dream, and
the great stone suspended in the heavens crashed down.
It was his own yell. "Eoghan's here, mother! Eoghan's
here!" and his hot breath was in the lawyer's face.
"Oh, hell! hell! hell! and all its devils." He had
blindly gripped the lawyer by the hair, and was sinking
his teeth in the lobe of an ear, chewing and gnawing upon
it in blind rage, as he felt for the lawyer's throat.
"Good God! you're murdering me; let me go!
McAskill screamed, as he twisted and writhed. Maddened
with pain, he jerked up his head, tore his ear from Eoghan's
grip, dashed his two hands in Eoghan's face, and broke
away down the passage. The mind of the lawyer was
actively at work as he ran — this madman would pursue
them through the Square; and the Square on Hogmanay
night is ablaze with light and choked with wives out in
their gee-gaws. What a sorry spectacle he would present,
flying across the Square, hunted by a comet of wrath!
The passage continued along the whole length of the
buildings to the back door of the shop. At the foot of the
stair leading to the kitchen, the close ran off the passage
at right angles. The lawyer darted into the close, brought
himself up smartly, and crouched against the wall. The
next moment a dark figure, growling in a manner which
made the lawyer's blood run cold, tore past him down the
close. The lawyer slipped round the corner to the right,
scurried down the passage and, without ceremony, turned
the handle of the door and stepped into the back shop.
It was empty. He walked to the door leading to the shop,
and saw Gillespie handing over the counter to Topsail
Janet a large basket, giving her at the same time instructions
which the lawyer could not catch. He heard
Topsail cackling, "Ye micht gie me a poke o' sweeties
for my Hogmanay."
Gillespie was reaching forth his hand to a box of cheap
confectionery when he saw the lawyer beckoning him
from the entrance to the back shop. Dismissing Topsail
Janet with a suggestive jerk of his head, he walked
swiftly round the counter to the lawyer.
"Hoo did ye win in here, laawer?" he asked tartly.
"A drunken fool at Brodie's knocked my cap into the
mud. I take six seven-eighths."
Gillespie smoothed out his face.
"Light or dark?"
"Dark."
While Gillespie was fetching some caps the lawyer
determined on his line of action. He concluded that
Eoghan had overheard the conversation which he had
had with Mrs. Strang, and that the son would doubtless
inform the father. All Brieston knew from Gillespie's
own mouth that the son had given up the idea of the
University to enter his father's business. It would be
as well for the lawyer to be beforehand with his own story.
When Gillespie returned with an armful of caps McAskill,
having retreated to the back shop, asked:
"Have ye half-an-hour to spare, Mr. Strang? Ye might
close the door." McAskill licked his lips with his tongue.
Gillespie, pushing the door to, interrogated the lawyer
with a look.
"I'm thrang the nicht; is it pressin'?"
McAskill nodded. "I'll mention no names, you know;
but there's one or two folk not exactly your friends in the
town."
"That's news."
"And to make a long story short they suspect you're
not keeping your books right."
"Whatna books?"
"As Poor Law Clerk."
The single ferrety eye of the lawyer saw Gillespie's brow
cloud and his eyes widen with apprehension. It did not
need the sharp whistle in Gillespie's nostrils to confirm
the lawyer. "By the Lord," he almost breathed the
words aloud, "it's true." But when Gillespie scanned
the lawyer's face, the eye of the lawyer was bent upon
the floor. Burly, almost genial, the healthy tan now
restored to his face, his chin tilted up in a characteristic
way, Gillespie appeared as if he were the accuser, and the
weak-kneed, thin-shanked, furtive MeAskill the accused.
"If he's innocent he'll order me out of the shop," McAskill
was thinking at that moment when Gillespie said:
"The books are passed every year."
"We all know that, Mr. Strang."
"What are they sookin' at then?"
"Well," answered McAskill, "the moneys you enter
in the books are passed; but they suspect these are not
all the moneys" — a watery smile played round the thin,
ruel lips — "and that's what I've come to see you
about."
"Sit doon, laawer; sit doon." Gillespie re-entered
the shop. He was gone some time, having searched for
the Fox to take charge of the counter. When he returned
he seated himself at his desk, and picking up a pen,
nodded across at McAskill.
"Noo, oot wi't." His tone was that of a judge.
McAskill shuffled about on his chair, and began:
"One or two gentlemen called at my office and asked me
if I would like to get your job — collecting the rates,
Registrar, and all that." The lawyer waved his hand. "I
thought you had resigned, and said I would be delighted."
As Gillespie made no answer, the lawyer went on:
"You see, there's so many of the poor have got off paying
their rates that it's difficult to know who pays. The word
of Mr. Strang has simply to be taken that so-and-so is
relieved of his rates, while, in point of fact, so-and-so has
paid. This is their argument, you understand."
"Ay! man."
"So, for the last year and this year they have given the
amount of their rates to half-a-dozen men who have never
paid taxes in their lives — none of your friends either, I'll
warrant you — and put them up to the job of paying their
rates."
"Imphm!" The ejaculation was ground out of the
listener. "And they are of opinion, not to mention any
names, that you haven't credited these sums with the
names in your official accounts and statements." McAskill
came to a breathless halt, like a diver risen from
a deep plunge.
"I'm follo — in' — ye.''
These words had the effect on McAskill of a physical
blow, and he cringed. "So they bribed me with the
offer of your job to get a hold of your books."
"Ye've come for them, nae doot?"
"I was to get them another way."
"Steal them lik'?"
The lawyer deprecated with a thin smile. "Oh, no;
for a little consideration, honorarium." He coughed in his
hand. "Your wife was to hand them over."
Gillespie slowly rose to his feet, and the lawyer blinking,
imitated, as if dragged up.
"I'm no' a violent man by ordinar, laawer; but ca'
canny. Ye'll no' be the first furrit o' Lonen's that was
trampit on."
Gillespie ponderously resumed his seat, and McAskill
slunk on to his chair.
"But I've come here to tell you, Mr. Strang," he
whined; "surely that's proof of my good intentions and
honesty."
"Ay! man, your honesty's a thing that canna be
proved; it's too often rowed up in a dirty cloot. What
gars ye bring it oot noo?
McAskill, ruffled, drew a hand over his smooth mouth.
"Oh! that they'll not get your books, now that I've
warned you."
"I'm dootin' no'." Gillespie laughed sardonically.
"Do you not think, Mr. Strang, it would be just as
well to credit the rates to those who have paid them?"
This sudden spurt of malice did not appear at all
sinister to Gillespie. "That's my business, laawer."
"You see you didn't happen to give them receipts —
Oh! a slight neglect, I'm sure. No doubt you can produce
their names and the amounts paid last year if called for
by a chartered accountant."
There was a profound silence. Gillespie put the pen
behind his ear, and gazed meditatively on the floor.
"What coorse are ye on, laawer?"
An evil smile flickered about the thin, sucking lip.
"I know the names of the men and the amounts paid.
Quite easy to let each man have his receipt, and credit the
amount in your statement of moneys received. There are
only six names in dispute. For any others" — McAskill
shot a keen glance at Gillespie — "it doesn't matter."
"It's no' for noäthin' they say you're a smert ane,
Mr. McAskill." Gillespie had become amazingly suave
and affected cordiality. "You an' me 'ill hae to mak' a
bargain."
"That's exactly what I've come for. Had I stayed away
you'd have been ruined."
Gillespie was stung in the seat of his pride by these
wor