Robert Louis Stevenson
Part 4 out of 5
his kind words, and the beauty of his manner and person. But, once
at the stair-foot, she threw aside the spell and recovered her
sensible and workaday self.
Jonathan was seated in the middle of the settle, a mug of ale
beside him, in the attitude of one prepared for trouble; but he did
not speak, and suffered her to fetch her supper and eat of it, with
a very excellent appetite, in silence. When she had done, she,
too, drew a tankard of home-brewed, and came and planted herself in
front of him upon the settle.
'Well?' said Jonathan.
'My lord has run away,' said Nance.
'What?' cried the old man.
'Abroad,' she continued; 'run away from creditors. He said he had
not a stiver, but he was drunk enough. He said you might live on
in the castle, and Mr. Archer would pay you; but you was to look
for no more wages, since he would be glad of them himself.'
Jonathan's face contracted; the flush of a black, bilious anger
mounted to the roots of his hair; he gave an inarticulate cry,
leapt upon his feet, and began rapidly pacing the stone floor. At
first he kept his hands behind his back in a tight knot; then he
began to gesticulate as he turned.
'This man--this lord,' he shouted, 'who is he? He was born with a
gold spoon in his mouth, and I with a dirty straw. He rolled in
his coach when he was a baby. I have dug and toiled and laboured
since I was that high--that high.' And he shouted again. 'I'm
bent and broke, and full of pains. D' ye think I don't know the
taste of sweat? Many's the gallon I've drunk of it--ay, in the
midwinter, toiling like a slave. All through, what has my life
been? Bend, bend, bend my old creaking back till it would ache
like breaking; wade about in the foul mire, never a dry stitch;
empty belly, sore hands, hat off to my Lord Redface; kicks and
ha'pence; and now, here, at the hind end, when I'm worn to my poor
bones, a kick and done with it.' He walked a little while in
silence, and then, extending his hand, 'Now you, Nance Holdaway,'
says he, 'you come of my blood, and you're a good girl. When that
man was a boy, I used to carry his gun for him. I carried the gun
all day on my two feet, and many a stitch I had, and chewed a
bullet for. He rode upon a horse, with feathers in his hat; but it
was him that had the shots and took the game home. Did I complain?
Not I. I knew my station. What did I ask, but just the chance to
live and die honest? Nance Holdaway, don't let them deny it to me-
-don't let them do it. I've been as poor as Job, and as honest as
the day, but now, my girl, you mark these words of mine, I'm
getting tired of it.'
'I wouldn't say such words, at least,' said Nance.
'You wouldn't?' said the old man grimly. 'Well, and did I when I
was your age? Wait till your back's broke and your hands tremble,
and your eyes fail, and you're weary of the battle and ask no more
but to lie down in your bed and give the ghost up like an honest
man; and then let there up and come some insolent, ungodly fellow--
ah! if I had him in these hands! "Where's my money that you
gambled?" I should say. "Where's my money that you drank and
diced?" "Thief!" is what I would say; "Thief!"' he roared,
'Mr. Archer will hear you if you don't take care,' said Nance, 'and
I would be ashamed, for one, that he should hear a brave, old,
honest, hard-working man like Jonathan Holdaway talk nonsense like
'D' ye think I mind for Mr. Archer?' he cried shrilly, with a clack
of laughter; and then he came close up to her, stooped down with
his two palms upon his knees, and looked her in the eyes, with a
strange hard expression, something like a smile. 'Do I mind for
God, my girl?' he said; 'that's what it's come to be now, do I mind
'Uncle Jonathan,' she said, getting up and taking him by the arm;
'you sit down again, where you were sitting. There, sit still;
I'll have no more of this; you'll do yourself a mischief. Come,
take a drink of this good ale, and I'll warm a tankard for you.
La, we'll pull through, you'll see. I'm young, as you say, and
it's my turn to carry the bundle; and don't you worry your bile, or
we'll have sickness, too, as well as sorrow.'
'D' ye think that I'd forgotten you?' said Jonathan, with something
like a groan; and thereupon his teeth clicked to, and he sat silent
with the tankard in his hand and staring straight before him.
'Why,' says Nance, setting on the ale to mull, 'men are always
children, they say, however old; and if ever I heard a thing like
this, to set to and make yourself sick, just when the money's
failing. Keep a good heart up; you haven't kept a good heart these
seventy years, nigh hand, to break down about a pound or two.
Here's this Mr. Archer come to lodge, that you disliked so much.
Well, now you see it was a clear Providence. Come, let's think
upon our mercies. And here is the ale mulling lovely; smell of it;
I'll take a drop myself, it smells so sweet. And, Uncle Jonathan,
you let me say one word. You've lost more than money before now;
you lost my aunt, and bore it like a man. Bear this.'
His face once more contracted; his fist doubled, and shot forth
into the air, and trembled. 'Let them look out!' he shouted.
'Here, I warn all men; I've done with this foul kennel of knaves.
Let them look out!'
'Hush, hush! for pity's sake,' cried Nance.
And then all of a sudden he dropped his face into his hands, and
broke out with a great hiccoughing dry sob that was horrible to
hear. 'O,' he cried, 'my God, if my son hadn't left me, if my Dick
was here!' and the sobs shook him; Nance sitting still and watching
him, with distress. 'O, if he were here to help his father!' he
went on again. 'If I had a son like other fathers, he would save
me now, when all is breaking down; O, he would save me! Ay, but
where is he? Raking taverns, a thief perhaps. My curse be on
him!' he added, rising again into wrath.
'Hush!' cried Nance, springing to her feet: 'your boy, your dead
wife's boy--Aunt Susan's baby that she loved--would you curse him?
O, God forbid!'
The energy of her address surprised him from his mood. He looked
upon her, tearless and confused. 'Let me go to my bed,' he said at
last, and he rose, and, shaking as with ague, but quite silent,
lighted his candle, and left the kitchen.
Poor Nance! the pleasant current of her dreams was all diverted.
She beheld a golden city, where she aspired to dwell; she had
spoken with a deity, and had told herself that she might rise to be
his equal; and now the earthly ligaments that bound her down had
been tightened. She was like a tree looking skyward, her roots
were in the ground. It seemed to her a thing so coarse, so rustic,
to be thus concerned about a loss in money; when Mr. Archer, fallen
from the sky-level of counts and nobles, faced his changed destiny
with so immovable a courage. To weary of honesty; that, at least,
no one could do, but even to name it was already a disgrace; and
she beheld in fancy her uncle, and the young lad, all laced and
feathered, hand upon hip, bestriding his small horse. The
opposition seemed to perpetuate itself from generation to
generation; one side still doomed to the clumsy and the servile,
the other born to beauty.
She thought of the golden zones in which gentlemen were bred, and
figured with so excellent a grace; zones in which wisdom and smooth
words, white linen and slim hands, were the mark of the desired
inhabitants; where low temptations were unknown, and honesty no
virtue, but a thing as natural as breathing.
CHAPTER IV--MINGLING THREADS
It was nearly seven before Mr. Archer left his apartment. On the
landing he found another door beside his own opening on a roofless
corridor, and presently he was walking on the top of the ruins. On
one hand he could look down a good depth into the green court-yard;
on the other his eye roved along the downward course of the river,
the wet woods all smoking, the shadows long and blue, the mists
golden and rosy in the sun, here and there the water flashing
across an obstacle. His heart expanded and softened to a grateful
melancholy, and with his eye fixed upon the distance, and no
thought of present danger, he continued to stroll along the
elevated and treacherous promenade.
A terror-stricken cry rose to him from the courtyard. He looked
down, and saw in a glimpse Nance standing below with hands clasped
in horror and his own foot trembling on the margin of a gulf. He
recoiled and leant against a pillar, quaking from head to foot, and
covering his face with his hands; and Nance had time to run round
by the stair and rejoin him where he stood before he had changed a
line of his position.
'Ah!' he cried, and clutched her wrist; 'don't leave me. The place
rocks; I have no head for altitudes.'
'Sit down against that pillar,' said Nance. 'Don't you be afraid;
I won't leave you, and don't look up or down: look straight at me.
How white you are!'
'The gulf,' he said, and closed his eyes again and shuddered.
'Why,' said Nance, 'what a poor climber you must be! That was
where my cousin Dick used to get out of the castle after Uncle
Jonathan had shut the gate. I've been down there myself with him
helping me. I wouldn't try with you,' she said, and laughed
The sound of her laughter was sincere and musical, and perhaps its
beauty barbed the offence to Mr. Archer. The blood came into his
face with a quick jet, and then left it paler than before. 'It is
a physical weakness,' he said harshly, 'and very droll, no doubt,
but one that I can conquer on necessity. See, I am still shaking.
Well, I advance to the battlements and look down. Show me your
'He would go sure-foot along that little ledge,' said Nance,
pointing as she spoke; 'then out through the breach and down by
yonder buttress. It is easier coming back, of course, because you
see where you are going. From the buttress foot a sheep-walk goes
along the scarp--see, you can follow it from here in the dry grass.
And now, sir,' she added, with a touch of womanly pity, 'I would
come away from here if I were you, for indeed you are not fit.'
Sure enough Mr. Archer's pallor and agitation had continued to
increase; his cheeks were deathly, his clenched fingers trembled
pitifully. 'The weakness is physical,' he sighed, and had nearly
fallen. Nance led him from the spot, and he was no sooner back in
the tower-stair, than he fell heavily against the wall and put his
arm across his eyes. A cup of brandy had to be brought him before
he could descend to breakfast; and the perfection of Nance's dream
was for the first time troubled.
Jonathan was waiting for them at table, with yellow, blood-shot
eyes and a peculiar dusky complexion. He hardly waited till they
found their seats, before, raising one hand, and stooping with his
mouth above his plate, he put up a prayer for a blessing on the
food and a spirit of gratitude in the eaters, and thereupon, and
without more civility, fell to. But it was notable that he was no
less speedily satisfied than he had been greedy to begin. He
pushed his plate away and drummed upon the table.
'These are silly prayers,' said he, 'that they teach us. Eat and
be thankful, that's no such wonder. Speak to me of starving--
there's the touch. You're a man, they tell me, Mr. Archer, that
has met with some reverses?'
'I have met with many,' replied Mr. Archer.
'Ha!' said Jonathan. 'None reckons but the last. Now, see; I
tried to make this girl here understand me.'
'Uncle,' said Nance, 'what should Mr. Archer care for your
concerns? He hath troubles of his own, and came to be at peace, I
'I tried to make her understand me,' repeated Jonathan doggedly;
'and now I'll try you. Do you think this world is fair?'
'Fair and false!' quoth Mr. Archer.
The old man laughed immoderately. 'Good,' said he, 'very good, but
what I mean is this: do you know what it is to get up early and go
to bed late, and never take so much as a holiday but four: and one
of these your own marriage day, and the other three the funerals of
folk you loved, and all that, to have a quiet old age in shelter,
and bread for your old belly, and a bed to lay your crazy bones
upon, with a clear conscience?'
'Sir,' said Mr. Archer, with an inclination of his head, 'you
portray a very brave existence.'
'Well,' continued Jonathan, 'and in the end thieves deceive you,
thieves rob and rook you, thieves turn you out in your old age and
send you begging. What have you got for all your honesty? A fine
return! You that might have stole scores of pounds, there you are
out in the rain with your rheumatics!'
Mr. Archer had forgotten to eat; with his hand upon his chin he was
studying the old man's countenance. 'And you conclude?' he asked.
'Conclude!' cried Jonathan. 'I conclude I'll be upsides with
'Ay,' said the other, 'we are all tempted to revenge.'
'You have lost money?' asked Jonathan.
'A great estate,' said Archer quietly.
'See now!' says Jonathan, 'and where is it?'
'Nay, I sometimes think that every one has had his share of it but
me,' was the reply. 'All England hath paid his taxes with my
patrimony: I was a sheep that left my wool on every briar.'
'And you sit down under that?' cried the old man. 'Come now, Mr.
Archer, you and me belong to different stations; and I know mine--
no man better--but since we have both been rooked, and are both
sore with it, why, here's my hand with a very good heart, and I ask
for yours, and no offence, I hope.'
'There is surely no offence, my friend,' returned Mr. Archer, as
they shook hands across the table; 'for, believe me, my sympathies
are quite acquired to you. This life is an arena where we fight
with beasts; and, indeed,' he added, sighing, 'I sometimes marvel
why we go down to it unarmed.'
In the meanwhile a creaking of ungreased axles had been heard
descending through the wood; and presently after, the door opened,
and the tall ostler entered the kitchen carrying one end of Mr.
Archer's trunk. The other was carried by an aged beggar man of
that district, known and welcome for some twenty miles about under
the name of 'Old Cumberland.' Each was soon perched upon a settle,
with a cup of ale; and the ostler, who valued himself upon his
affability, began to entertain the company, still with half an eye
on Nance, to whom in gallant terms he expressly dedicated every sip
of ale. First he told of the trouble they had to get his Lordship
started in the chaise; and how he had dropped a rouleau of gold on
the threshold, and the passage and doorstep had been strewn with
guinea-pieces. At this old Jonathan looked at Mr. Archer. Next
the visitor turned to news of a more thrilling character: how the
down mail had been stopped again near Grantham by three men on
horseback--a white and two bays; how they had handkerchiefs on
their faces; how Tom the guard's blunderbuss missed fire, but he
swore he had winged one of them with a pistol; and how they had got
clean away with seventy pounds in money, some valuable papers, and
a watch or two.
'Brave! brave!' cried Jonathan in ecstasy. 'Seventy pounds! O,
'Well, I don't see the great bravery,' observed the ostler,
misapprehending him. 'Three men, and you may call that three to
one. I'll call it brave when some one stops the mail single-
handed; that's a risk.'
'And why should they hesitate?' inquired Mr. Archer. 'The poor
souls who are fallen to such a way of life, pray what have they to
lose? If they get the money, well; but if a ball should put them
from their troubles, why, so better.'
'Well, sir,' said the ostler, 'I believe you'll find they won't
agree with you. They count on a good fling, you see; or who would
risk it?--And here's my best respects to you, Miss Nance.'
'And I forgot the part of cowardice,' resumed Mr. Archer. 'All men
'O, surely not!' cried Nance.
'All men,' reiterated Mr. Archer.
'Ay, that's a true word,' observed Old Cumberland, 'and a thief,
anyway, for it's a coward's trade.'
'But these fellows, now,' said Jonathan, with a curious, appealing
manner--'these fellows with their seventy pounds! Perhaps, Mr.
Archer, they were no true thieves after all, but just people who
had been robbed and tried to get their own again. What was that
you said, about all England and the taxes? One takes, another
gives; why, that's almost fair. If I've been rooked and robbed,
and the coat taken off my back, I call it almost fair to take
'Ask Old Cumberland,' observed the ostler; 'you ask Old Cumberland,
Miss Nance!' and he bestowed a wink upon his favoured fair one.
'Why that?' asked Jonathan.
'He had his coat taken--ay, and his shirt too,' returned the
'Is that so?' cried Jonathan eagerly. 'Was you robbed too?'
'That was I,' replied Cumberland, 'with a warrant! I was a well-
to-do man when I was young.'
'Ay! See that!' says Jonathan. 'And you don't long for a
'Eh! Not me!' answered the beggar. 'It's too long ago. But if
you'll give me another mug of your good ale, my pretty lady, I
won't say no to that.'
'And shalt have! And shalt have!' cried Jonathan. 'Or brandy
even, if you like it better.'
And as Cumberland did like it better, and the ostler chimed in, the
party pledged each other in a dram of brandy before separating.
As for Nance, she slipped forth into the ruins, partly to avoid the
ostler's gallantries, partly to lament over the defects of Mr.
Archer. Plainly, he was no hero. She pitied him; she began to
feel a protecting interest mingle with and almost supersede her
admiration, and was at the same time disappointed and yet drawn to
him. She was, indeed, conscious of such unshaken fortitude in her
own heart, that she was almost tempted by an occasion to be bold
for two. She saw herself, in a brave attitude, shielding her
imperfect hero from the world; and she saw, like a piece of heaven,
his gratitude for her protection.
CHAPTER V--LIFE IN THE CASTLE
From that day forth the life of these three persons in the ruin ran
very smoothly. Mr. Archer now sat by the fire with a book, and now
passed whole days abroad, returning late, dead weary. His manner
was a mask; but it was half transparent; through the even tenor of
his gravity and courtesy profound revolutions of feeling were
betrayed, seasons of numb despair, of restlessness, of aching
temper. For days he would say nothing beyond his usual courtesies
and solemn compliments; and then, all of a sudden, some fine
evening beside the kitchen fire, he would fall into a vein of
elegant gossip, tell of strange and interesting events, the secrets
of families, brave deeds of war, the miraculous discovery of crime,
the visitations of the dead. Nance and her uncle would sit till
the small hours with eyes wide open: Jonathan applauding the
unexpected incidents with many a slap of his big hand; Nance,
perhaps, more pleased with the narrator's eloquence and wise
reflections; and then, again, days would follow of abstraction, of
listless humming, of frequent apologies and long hours of silence.
Once only, and then after a week of unrelieved melancholy, he went
over to the 'Green Dragon,' spent the afternoon with the landlord
and a bowl of punch, and returned as on the first night, devious in
step but courteous and unperturbed of speech.
If he seemed more natural and more at his ease it was when he found
Nance alone; and, laying by some of his reserve, talked before her
rather than to her of his destiny, character and hopes. To Nance
these interviews were but a doubtful privilege. At times he would
seem to take a pleasure in her presence, to consult her gravely, to
hear and to discuss her counsels; at times even, but these were
rare and brief, he would talk of herself, praise the qualities that
she possessed, touch indulgently on her defects, and lend her books
to read and even examine her upon her reading; but far more often
he would fall into a half unconsciousness, put her a question and
then answer it himself, drop into the veiled tone of voice of one
soliloquising, and leave her at last as though he had forgotten her
existence. It was odd, too, that in all this random converse, not
a fact of his past life, and scarce a name, should ever cross his
lips. A profound reserve kept watch upon his most unguarded
moments. He spoke continually of himself, indeed, but still in
enigmas; a veiled prophet of egoism.
The base of Nance's feelings for Mr. Archer was admiration as for a
superior being; and with this, his treatment, consciously or not,
accorded happily. When he forgot her, she took the blame upon
herself. His formal politeness was so exquisite that this
essential brutality stood excused. His compliments, besides, were
always grave and rational; he would offer reason for his praise,
convict her of merit, and thus disarm suspicion. Nay, and the very
hours when he forgot and remembered her alternately could by the
ardent fallacies of youth be read in the light of an attention.
She might be far from his confidence; but still she was nearer it
than any one. He might ignore her presence, but yet he sought it.
Moreover, she, upon her side, was conscious of one point of
superiority. Beside this rather dismal, rather effeminate man, who
recoiled from a worm, who grew giddy on the castle wall, who bore
so helplessly the weight of his misfortunes, she felt herself a
head and shoulders taller in cheerful and sterling courage. She
could walk head in air along the most precarious rafter; her hand
feared neither the grossness nor the harshness of life's web, but
was thrust cheerfully, if need were, into the briar bush, and could
take hold of any crawling horror. Ruin was mining the walls of her
cottage, as already it had mined and subverted Mr. Archer's palace.
Well, she faced it with a bright countenance and a busy hand. She
had got some washing, some rough seamstress work from the 'Green
Dragon,' and from another neighbour ten miles away across the moor.
At this she cheerfully laboured, and from that height she could
afford to pity the useless talents and poor attitude of Mr. Archer.
It did not change her admiration, but it made it bearable. He was
above her in all ways; but she was above him in one. She kept it
to herself, and hugged it. When, like all young creatures, she
made long stories to justify, to nourish, and to forecast the
course of her affection, it was this private superiority that made
all rosy, that cut the knot, and that, at last, in some great
situation, fetched to her knees the dazzling but imperfect hero.
With this pretty exercise she beguiled the hours of labour, and
consoled herself for Mr. Archer's bearing.
Pity was her weapon and her weakness. To accept the loved one's
faults, although it has an air of freedom, is to kiss the chain,
and this pity it was which, lying nearer to her heart, lent the one
element of true emotion to a fanciful and merely brain-sick love.
Thus it fell out one day that she had gone to the 'Green Dragon'
and brought back thence a letter to Mr. Archer. He, upon seeing
it, winced like a man under the knife: pain, shame, sorrow, and
the most trenchant edge of mortification cut into his heart and
wrung the steady composure of his face.
'Dear heart! have you bad news?' she cried.
But he only replied by a gesture and fled to his room, and when,
later on, she ventured to refer to it, he stopped her on the
threshold, as if with words prepared beforehand. 'There are some
pains,' said he, 'too acute for consolation, or I would bring them
to my kind consoler. Let the memory of that letter, if you please,
be buried.' And then as she continued to gaze at him, being, in
spite of herself, pained by his elaborate phrase, doubtfully
sincere in word and manner: 'Let it be enough,' he added
haughtily, 'that if this matter wring my heart, it doth not touch
my conscience. I am a man, I would have you to know, who suffers
He had never spoken so directly: never with so convincing an
emotion; and her heart thrilled for him. She could have taken his
pains and died of them with joy.
Meanwhile she was left without support. Jonathan now swore by his
lodger, and lived for him. He was a fine talker. He knew the
finest sight of stories; he was a man and a gentleman, take him for
all in all, and a perfect credit to Old England. Such were the old
man's declared sentiments, and sure enough he clung to Mr. Archer's
side, hung upon his utterance when he spoke, and watched him with
unwearing interest when he was silent. And yet his feeling was not
clear; in the partial wreck of his mind, which was leaning to
decay, some after-thought was strongly present. As he gazed in Mr.
Archer's face a sudden brightness would kindle in his rheumy eyes,
his eye-brows would lift as with a sudden thought, his mouth would
open as though to speak, and close again on silence. Once or twice
he even called Mr. Archer mysteriously forth into the dark
courtyard, took him by the button, and laid a demonstrative finger
on his chest; but there his ideas or his courage failed him; he
would shufflingly excuse himself and return to his position by the
fire without a word of explanation. 'The good man was growing
old,' said Mr. Archer with a suspicion of a shrug. But the good
man had his idea, and even when he was alone the name of Mr. Archer
fell from his lips continually in the course of mumbled and
CHAPTER VI--THE BAD HALF-CROWN
However early Nance arose, and she was no sluggard, the old man,
who had begun to outlive the earthly habit of slumber, would
usually have been up long before, the fire would be burning
brightly, and she would see him wandering among the ruins, lantern
in hand, and talking assiduously to himself. One day, however,
after he had returned late from the market town, she found that she
had stolen a march upon that indefatigable early riser. The
kitchen was all blackness. She crossed the castle-yard to the
wood-cellar, her steps printing the thick hoarfrost. A scathing
breeze blew out of the north-east and slowly carried a regiment of
black and tattered clouds over the face of heaven, which was
already kindled with the wild light of morning, but where she
walked, in shelter of the ruins, the flame of her candle burned
steady. The extreme cold smote upon her conscience. She could not
bear to think this bitter business fell usually to the lot of one
so old as Jonathan, and made desperate resolutions to be earlier in
The fire was a good blaze before he entered, limping dismally into
the kitchen. 'Nance,' said he, 'I be all knotted up with the
rheumatics; will you rub me a bit?' She came and rubbed him where
and how he bade her. 'This is a cruel thing that old age should be
rheumaticky,' said he. 'When I was young I stood my turn of the
teethache like a man! for why? because it couldn't last for ever;
but these rheumatics come to live and die with you. Your aunt was
took before the time came; never had an ache to mention. Now I lie
all night in my single bed and the blood never warms in me; this
knee of mine it seems like lighted up with rheumatics; it seems as
though you could see to sew by it; and all the strings of my old
body ache, as if devils was pulling 'em. Thank you kindly; that's
someways easier now, but an old man, my dear, has little to look
for; it's pain, pain, pain to the end of the business, and I'll
never be rightly warm again till I get under the sod,' he said, and
looked down at her with a face so aged and weary that she had
'I lay awake all night,' he continued; 'I do so mostly, and a long
walk kills me. Eh, deary me, to think that life should run to such
a puddle! And I remember long syne when I was strong, and the
blood all hot and good about me, and I loved to run, too--deary me,
to run! Well, that's all by. You'd better pray to be took early,
Nance, and not live on till you get to be like me, and are robbed
in your grey old age, your cold, shivering, dark old age, that's
like a winter's morning'; and he bitterly shuddered, spreading his
hands before the fire.
'Come now,' said Nance, 'the more you say the less you'll like it,
Uncle Jonathan; but if I were you I would be proud for to have
lived all your days honest and beloved, and come near the end with
your good name: isn't that a fine thing to be proud of? Mr.
Archer was telling me in some strange land they used to run races
each with a lighted candle, and the art was to keep the candle
burning. Well, now, I thought that was like life: a man's good
conscience is the flame he gets to carry, and if he comes to the
winning-post with that still burning, why, take it how you will,
the man's a hero--even if he was low-born like you and me.'
'Did Mr. Archer tell you that?' asked Jonathan.
'No, dear,' said she, 'that's my own thought about it. He told me
of the race. But see, now,' she continued, putting on the
porridge, 'you say old age is a hard season, but so is youth.
You're half out of the battle, I would say; you loved my aunt and
got her, and buried her, and some of these days soon you'll go to
meet her; and take her my love and tell her I tried to take good
care of you; for so I do, Uncle Jonathan.'
Jonathan struck with his fist upon the settle. 'D' ye think I want
to die, ye vixen?' he shouted. 'I want to live ten hundred years.'
This was a mystery beyond Nance's penetration, and she stared in
wonder as she made the porridge.
'I want to live,' he continued, 'I want to live and to grow rich.
I want to drive my carriage and to dice in hells and see the ring,
I do. Is this a life that I lived? I want to be a rake, d' ye
understand? I want to know what things are like. I don't want to
die like a blind kitten, and me seventy-six.'
'O fie!' said Nance.
The old man thrust out his jaw at her, with the grimace of an
irreverent schoolboy. Upon that aged face it seemed a blasphemy.
Then he took out of his bosom a long leather purse, and emptying
its contents on the settle, began to count and recount the pieces,
ringing and examining each, and suddenly he leapt like a young man.
'What!' he screamed. 'Bad? O Lord! I'm robbed again!' And
falling on his knees before the settle he began to pour forth the
most dreadful curses on the head of his deceiver. His eyes were
shut, for to him this vile solemnity was prayer. He held up the
bad half-crown in his right hand, as though he were displaying it
to Heaven, and what increased the horror of the scene, the curses
he invoked were those whose efficacy he had tasted--old age and
poverty, rheumatism and an ungrateful son. Nance listened
appalled; then she sprang forward and dragged down his arm and laid
her hand upon his mouth.
'Whist!' she cried. 'Whist ye, for God's sake! O my man, whist
ye! If Heaven were to hear; if poor Aunt Susan were to hear!
Think, she may be listening.' And with the histrionism of strong
emotion she pointed to a corner of the kitchen.
His eyes followed her finger. He looked there for a little,
thinking, blinking; then he got stiffly to his feet and resumed his
place upon the settle, the bad piece still in his hand. So he sat
for some time, looking upon the half-crown, and now wondering to
himself on the injustice and partiality of the law, now computing
again and again the nature of his loss. So he was still sitting
when Mr. Archer entered the kitchen. At this a light came into his
face, and after some seconds of rumination he dispatched Nance upon
'Mr. Archer,' said he, as soon as they were alone together, 'would
you give me a guinea-piece for silver?'
'Why, sir, I believe I can,' said Mr. Archer.
And the exchange was just effected when Nance re-entered the
apartment. The blood shot into her face.
'What's to do here?' she asked rudely.
'Nothing, my dearie,' said old Jonathan, with a touch of whine.
'What's to do?' she said again.
'Your uncle was but changing me a piece of gold,' returned Mr.
'Let me see what he hath given you, Mr. Archer,' replied the girl.
'I had a bad piece, and I fear it is mixed up among the good.'
'Well, well,' replied Mr. Archer, smiling, 'I must take the
merchant's risk of it. The money is now mixed.'
'I know my piece,' quoth Nance. 'Come, let me see your silver, Mr.
Archer. If I have to get it by a theft I'll see that money,' she
'Nay, child, if you put as much passion to be honest as the world
to steal, I must give way, though I betray myself,' said Mr.
Archer. 'There it is as I received it.'
Nance quickly found the bad half-crown.
'Give him another,' she said, looking Jonathan in the face; and
when that had been done, she walked over to the chimney and flung
the guilty piece into the reddest of the fire. Its base
constituents began immediately to run; even as she watched it the
disc crumbled, and the lineaments of the King became confused.
Jonathan, who had followed close behind, beheld these changes from
over her shoulder, and his face darkened sorely.
'Now,' said she, 'come back to table, and to-day it is I that shall
say grace, as I used to do in the old times, day about with Dick';
and covering her eyes with one hand, 'O Lord,' said she with deep
emotion, 'make us thankful; and, O Lord, deliver us from evil! For
the love of the poor souls that watch for us in heaven, O deliver
us from evil.'
CHAPTER VII--THE BLEACHING-GREEN
The year moved on to March; and March, though it blew bitter keen
from the North Sea, yet blinked kindly between whiles on the river
dell. The mire dried up in the closest covert; life ran in the
bare branches, and the air of the afternoon would be suddenly sweet
with the fragrance of new grass.
Above and below the castle the river crooked like the letter 'S.'
The lower loop was to the left, and embraced the high and steep
projection which was crowned by the ruins; the upper loop enclosed
a lawny promontory, fringed by thorn and willow. It was easy to
reach it from the castle side, for the river ran in this part very
quietly among innumerable boulders and over dam-like walls of rock.
The place was all enclosed, the wind a stranger, the turf smooth
and solid; so it was chosen by Nance to be her bleaching-green.
One day she brought a bucketful of linen, and had but begun to
wring and lay them out when Mr. Archer stepped from the thicket on
the far side, drew very deliberately near, and sat down in silence
on the grass. Nance looked up to greet him with a smile, but
finding her smile was not returned, she fell into embarrassment and
stuck the more busily to her employment. Man or woman, the whole
world looks well at any work to which they are accustomed; but the
girl was ashamed of what she did. She was ashamed, besides, of the
sun-bonnet that so well became her, and ashamed of her bare arms,
which were her greatest beauty.
'Nausicaa,' said Mr. Archer at last, 'I find you like Nausicaa.'
'And who was she?' asked Nance, and laughed in spite of herself, an
empty and embarrassed laugh, that sounded in Mr. Archer's ears,
indeed, like music, but to her own like the last grossness of
'She was a princess of the Grecian islands,' he replied. 'A king,
being shipwrecked, found her washing by the shore. Certainly I,
too, was shipwrecked,' he continued, plucking at the grass. 'There
was never a more desperate castaway--to fall from polite life,
fortune, a shrine of honour, a grateful conscience, duties
willingly taken up and faithfully discharged; and to fall to this--
idleness, poverty, inutility, remorse.' He seemed to have
forgotten her presence, but here he remembered her again. 'Nance,'
said he, 'would you have a man sit down and suffer or rise up and
'Nay,' she said. 'I would always rather see him doing.'
'Ha!' said Mr. Archer, 'but yet you speak from an imperfect
knowledge. Conceive a man damned to a choice of only evil--
misconduct upon either side, not a fault behind him, and yet naught
before him but this choice of sins. How would you say then?'
'I would say that he was much deceived, Mr. Archer,' returned
Nance. 'I would say there was a third choice, and that the right
'I tell you,' said Mr. Archer, 'the man I have in view hath two
ways open, and no more. One to wait, like a poor mewling baby,
till Fate save or ruin him; the other to take his troubles in his
hand, and to perish or be saved at once. It is no point of morals;
both are wrong. Either way this step-child of Providence must
fall; which shall he choose, by doing or not doing?'
'Fall, then, is what I would say,' replied Nance. 'Fall where you
will, but do it! For O, Mr. Archer,' she continued, stooping to
her work, 'you that are good and kind, and so wise, it doth
sometimes go against my heart to see you live on here like a sheep
in a turnip-field! If you were braver--' and here she paused,
'Do I, indeed, lack courage?' inquired Mr. Archer of himself.
'Courage, the footstool of the virtues, upon which they stand?
Courage, that a poor private carrying a musket has to spare of;
that does not fail a weasel or a rat; that is a brutish faculty? I
to fail there, I wonder? But what is courage, then? The constancy
to endure oneself or to see others suffer? The itch of ill-advised
activity: mere shuttle-wittedness, or to be still and patient? To
inquire of the significance of words is to rob ourselves of what we
seem to know, and yet, of all things, certainly to stand still is
the least heroic. Nance,' he said, 'did you ever hear of Hamlet?'
'Never,' said Nance.
''Tis an old play,' returned Mr. Archer, 'and frequently enacted.
This while I have been talking Hamlet. You must know this Hamlet
was a Prince among the Danes,' and he told her the play in a very
good style, here and there quoting a verse or two with solemn
'It is strange,' said Nance; 'he was then a very poor creature?'
'That was what he could not tell,' said Mr. Archer. 'Look at me,
am I as poor a creature?'
She looked, and what she saw was the familiar thought of all her
hours; the tall figure very plainly habited in black, the spotless
ruffles, the slim hands; the long, well-shapen, serious, shaven
face, the wide and somewhat thin-lipped mouth, the dark eyes that
were so full of depth and change and colour. He was gazing at her
with his brows a little knit, his chin upon one hand and that elbow
resting on his knee.
'Ye look a man!' she cried, 'ay, and should be a great one! The
more shame to you to lie here idle like a dog before the fire.'
'My fair Holdaway,' quoth Mr. Archer, 'you are much set on action.
I cannot dig, to beg I am ashamed.' He continued, looking at her
with a half-absent fixity, ''Tis a strange thing, certainly, that
in my years of fortune I should never taste happiness, and now when
I am broke, enjoy so much of it, for was I ever happier than to-
day? Was the grass softer, the stream pleasanter in sound, the air
milder, the heart more at peace? Why should I not sink? To dig--
why, after all, it should be easy. To take a mate, too? Love is
of all grades since Jupiter; love fails to none; and children'--but
here he passed his hand suddenly over his eyes. 'O fool and
coward, fool and coward!' he said bitterly; 'can you forget your
fetters? You did not know that I was fettered, Nance?' he asked,
again addressing her.
But Nance was somewhat sore. 'I know you keep talking,' she said,
and, turning half away from him, began to wring out a sheet across
her shoulder. 'I wonder you are not wearied of your voice. When
the hands lie abed the tongue takes a walk.'
Mr. Archer laughed unpleasantly, rose and moved to the water's
edge. In this part the body of the river poured across a little
narrow fell, ran some ten feet very smoothly over a bed of pebbles,
then getting wind, as it were, of another shelf of rock which
barred the channel, began, by imperceptible degrees, to separate
towards either shore in dancing currents, and to leave the middle
clear and stagnant. The set towards either side was nearly equal;
about one half of the whole water plunged on the side of the
castle, through a narrow gullet; about one half ran ripping past
the margin of the green and slipped across a babbling rapid.
'Here,' said Mr. Archer, after he had looked for some time at the
fine and shifting demarcation of these currents, 'come here and see
me try my fortune.'
'I am not like a man,' said Nance; 'I have no time to waste.'
'Come here,' he said again. 'I ask you seriously, Nance. We are
not always childish when we seem so.'
She drew a little nearer.
'Now,' said he, 'you see these two channels--choose one.'
'I'll choose the nearest, to save time,' said Nance.
'Well, that shall be for action,' returned Mr. Archer. 'And since
I wish to have the odds against me, not only the other channel but
yon stagnant water in the midst shall be for lying still. You see
this?' he continued, pulling up a withered rush. 'I break it in
three. I shall put each separately at the top of the upper fall,
and according as they go by your way or by the other I shall guide
'This is very silly,' said Nance, with a movement of her shoulders.
'I do not think it so,' said Mr. Archer.
'And then,' she resumed, 'if you are to try your fortune, why not
'Nay,' returned Mr. Archer with a smile, 'no man can put complete
reliance in blind fate; he must still cog the dice.'
By this time he had got upon the rock beside the upper fall, and,
bidding her look out, dropped a piece of rush into the middle of
the intake. The rusty fragment was sucked at once over the fall,
came up again far on the right hand, leaned ever more and more in
the same direction, and disappeared under the hanging grasses on
the castle side.
'One,' said Mr. Archer, 'one for standing still.'
But the next launch had a different fate, and after hanging for a
while about the edge of the stagnant water, steadily approached the
bleaching-green and danced down the rapid under Nance's eyes.
'One for me,' she cried with some exultation; and then she observed
that Mr. Archer had grown pale, and was kneeling on the rock, with
his hand raised like a person petrified. 'Why,' said she, 'you do
not mind it, do you?'
'Does a man not mind a throw of dice by which a fortune hangs?'
said Mr. Archer, rather hoarsely. 'And this is more than fortune.
Nance, if you have any kindness for my fate, put up a prayer before
I launch the next one.'
'A prayer,' she cried, 'about a game like this? I would not be so
'Well,' said he, 'then without,' and he closed his eyes and dropped
the piece of rush. This time there was no doubt. It went for the
rapid as straight as any arrow.
'Action then!' said Mr. Archer, getting to his feet; 'and then God
forgive us,' he added, almost to himself.
'God forgive us, indeed,' cried Nance, 'for wasting the good
daylight! But come, Mr. Archer, if I see you look so serious I
shall begin to think you was in earnest.'
'Nay,' he said, turning upon her suddenly, with a full smile; 'but
is not this good advice? I have consulted God and demigod; the
nymph of the river, and what I far more admire and trust, my blue-
eyed Minerva. Both have said the same. My own heart was telling
it already. Action, then, be mine; and into the deep sea with all
this paralysing casuistry. I am happy to-day for the first time.'
CHAPTER VIII--THE MAIL GUARD
Somewhere about two in the morning a squall had burst upon the
castle, a clap of screaming wind that made the towers rock, and a
copious drift of rain that streamed from the windows. The wind
soon blew itself out, but the day broke cloudy and dripping, and
when the little party assembled at breakfast their humours appeared
to have changed with the change of weather. Nance had been
brooding on the scene at the river-side, applying it in various
ways to her particular aspirations, and the result, which was
hardly to her mind, had taken the colour out of her cheeks. Mr.
Archer, too, was somewhat absent, his thoughts were of a mingled
strain; and even upon his usually impassive countenance there were
betrayed successive depths of depression and starts of exultation,
which the girl translated in terms of her own hopes and fears. But
Jonathan was the most altered: he was strangely silent, hardly
passing a word, and watched Mr. Archer with an eager and furtive
eye. It seemed as if the idea that had so long hovered before him
had now taken a more solid shape, and, while it still attracted,
somewhat alarmed his imagination.
At this rate, conversation languished into a silence which was only
broken by the gentle and ghostly noises of the rain on the stone
roof and about all that field of ruins; and they were all relieved
when the note of a man whistling and the sound of approaching
footsteps in the grassy court announced a visitor. It was the
ostler from the 'Green Dragon' bringing a letter for Mr. Archer.
Nance saw her hero's face contract and then relax again at sight of
it; and she thought that she knew why, for the sprawling, gross
black characters of the address were easily distinguishable from
the fine writing on the former letter that had so much disturbed
him. He opened it and began to read; while the ostler sat down to
table with a pot of ale, and proceeded to make himself agreeable
after his fashion.
'Fine doings down our way, Miss Nance,' said he. 'I haven't been
abed this blessed night.'
Nance expressed a polite interest, but her eye was on Mr. Archer,
who was reading his letter with a face of such extreme indifference
that she was tempted to suspect him of assumption.
'Yes,' continued the ostler, 'not been the like of it this fifteen
years: the North Mail stopped at the three stones.'
Jonathan's cup was at his lip, but at this moment he choked with a
great splutter; and Mr. Archer, as if startled by the noise, made
so sudden a movement that one corner of the sheet tore off and
stayed between his finger and thumb. It was some little time
before the old man was sufficiently recovered to beg the ostler to
go on, and he still kept coughing and crying and rubbing his eyes.
Mr. Archer, on his side, laid the letter down, and, putting his
hands in his pocket, listened gravely to the tale.
'Yes,' resumed Sam, 'the North Mail was stopped by a single
horseman; dash my wig, but I admire him! There were four insides
and two out, and poor Tom Oglethorpe, the guard. Tom showed
himself a man; let fly his blunderbuss at him; had him covered,
too, and could swear to that; but the Captain never let on, up with
a pistol and fetched poor Tom a bullet through the body. Tom, he
squelched upon the seat, all over blood. Up comes the Captain to
the window. "Oblige me," says he, "with what you have." Would you
believe it? Not a man says cheep!--not them. "Thy hands over thy
head." Four watches, rings, snuff-boxes, seven-and-forty pounds
overhead in gold. One Dicksee, a grazier, tries it on: gives him
a guinea. "Beg your pardon," says the Captain, "I think too highly
of you to take it at your hand. I will not take less than ten from
such a gentleman." This Dicksee had his money in his stocking, but
there was the pistol at his eye. Down he goes, offs with his
stocking, and there was thirty golden guineas. "Now," says the
Captain, "you've tried it on with me, but I scorns the advantage.
Ten I said," he says, "and ten I take." So, dash my buttons, I
call that man a man!' cried Sam in cordial admiration.
'Well, and then?' says Mr. Archer.
'Then,' resumed Sam, 'that old fat fagot Engleton, him as held the
ribbons and drew up like a lamb when he was told to, picks up his
cattle, and drives off again. Down they came to the "Dragon," all
singing like as if they was scalded, and poor Tom saying nothing.
You would 'a' thought they had all lost the King's crown to hear
them. Down gets this Dicksee. "Postmaster," he says, taking him
by the arm, "this is a most abominable thing," he says. Down gets
a Major Clayton, and gets the old man by the other arm. "We've
been robbed," he cries, "robbed!" Down gets the others, and all
around the old man telling their story, and what they had lost, and
how they was all as good as ruined; till at last Old Engleton says,
says he, "How about Oglethorpe?" says he. "Ay," says the others,
"how about the guard?" Well, with that we bousted him down, as
white as a rag and all blooded like a sop. I thought he was dead.
Well, he ain't dead; but he's dying, I fancy.'
'Did you say four watches?' said Jonathan.
'Four, I think. I wish it had been forty,' cried Sam. 'Such a
party of soused herrings I never did see--not a man among them bar
poor Tom. But us that are the servants on the road have all the
risk and none of the profit.'
'And this brave fellow,' asked Mr. Archer, very quietly, 'this
Oglethorpe--how is he now?'
'Well, sir, with my respects, I take it he has a hole bang through
him,' said Sam. 'The doctor hasn't been yet. He'd 'a' been bright
and early if it had been a passenger. But, doctor or no, I'll make
a good guess that Tom won't see to-morrow. He'll die on a Sunday,
will poor Tom; and they do say that's fortunate.'
'Did Tom see him that did it?' asked Jonathan.
'Well, he saw him,' replied Sam, 'but not to swear by. Said he was
a very tall man, and very big, and had a 'ankerchief about his
face, and a very quick shot, and sat his horse like a thorough
gentleman, as he is.'
'A gentleman!' cried Nance. 'The dirty knave!'
'Well, I calls a man like that a gentleman,' returned the ostler;
'that's what I mean by a gentleman.'
'You don't know much of them, then,' said Nance.
'A gentleman would scorn to stoop to such a thing. I call my uncle
a better gentleman than any thief.'
'And you would be right,' said Mr. Archer.
'How many snuff-boxes did he get?' asked Jonathan.
'O, dang me if I know,' said Sam; 'I didn't take an inventory.'
'I will go back with you, if you please,' said Mr. Archer. 'I
should like to see poor Oglethorpe. He has behaved well.'
'At your service, sir,' said Sam, jumping to his feet. 'I dare to
say a gentleman like you would not forget a poor fellow like Tom--
no, nor a plain man like me, sir, that went without his sleep to
nurse him. And excuse me, sir,' added Sam, 'you won't forget about
the letter neither?'
'Surely not,' said Mr. Archer.
Oglethorpe lay in a low bed, one of several in a long garret of the
inn. The rain soaked in places through the roof and fell in minute
drops; there was but one small window; the beds were occupied by
servants, the air of the garret was both close and chilly. Mr.
Archer's heart sank at the threshold to see a man lying perhaps
mortally hurt in so poor a sick-room, and as he drew near the low
bed he took his hat off. The guard was a big, blowsy, innocent-
looking soul with a thick lip and a broad nose, comically turned
up; his cheeks were crimson, and when Mr. Archer laid a finger on
his brow he found him burning with fever.
'I fear you suffer much,' he said, with a catch in his voice, as he
sat down on the bedside.
'I suppose I do, sir,' returned Oglethorpe; 'it is main sore.'
'I am used to wounds and wounded men,' returned the visitor. 'I
have been in the wars and nursed brave fellows before now; and, if
you will suffer me, I propose to stay beside you till the doctor
'It is very good of you, sir, I am sure,' said Oglethorpe. 'The
trouble is they won't none of them let me drink.'
'If you will not tell the doctor,' said Mr. Archer, 'I will give
you some water. They say it is bad for a green wound, but in the
Low Countries we all drank water when we found the chance, and I
could never perceive we were the worse for it.'
'Been wounded yourself, sir, perhaps?' called Oglethorpe.
'Twice,' said Mr. Archer, 'and was as proud of these hurts as any
lady of her bracelets. 'Tis a fine thing to smart for one's duty;
even in the pangs of it there is contentment.'
'Ah, well!' replied the guard, 'if you've been shot yourself, that
explains. But as for contentment, why, sir, you see, it smarts, as
you say. And then, I have a good wife, you see, and a bit of a
brat--a little thing, so high.'
'Don't move,' said Mr. Archer.
'No, sir, I will not, and thank you kindly,' said Oglethorpe. 'At
York they are. A very good lass is my wife--far too good for me.
And the little rascal--well, I don't know how to say it, but he
sort of comes round you. If I were to go, sir, it would be hard on
my poor girl--main hard on her!'
'Ay, you must feel bitter hardly to the rogue that laid you here,'
'Why, no, sir, more against Engleton and the passengers,' replied
the guard. 'He played his hand, if you come to look at it; and I
wish he had shot worse, or me better. And yet I'll go to my grave
but what I covered him,' he cried. 'It looks like witchcraft.
I'll go to my grave but what he was drove full of slugs like a
'Quietly,' said Mr. Archer, 'you must not excite yourself. These
deceptions are very usual in war; the eye, in the moment of alert,
is hardly to be trusted, and when the smoke blows away you see the
man you fired at, taking aim, it may be, at yourself. You should
observe, too, that you were in the dark night, and somewhat dazzled
by the lamps, and that the sudden stopping of the mail had jolted
you. In such circumstances a man may miss, ay, even with a
blunder-buss, and no blame attach to his marksmanship.' . . .
THE YOUNG CHEVALIER
PROLOGUE--THE WINE-SELLER'S WIFE
There was a wine-seller's shop, as you went down to the river in
the city of the Anti-popes. There a man was served with good wine
of the country and plain country fare; and the place being clean
and quiet, with a prospect on the river, certain gentlemen who
dwelt in that city in attendance on a great personage made it a
practice (when they had any silver in their purses) to come and eat
there and be private.
They called the wine-seller Paradou. He was built more like a
bullock than a man, huge in bone and brawn, high in colour, and
with a hand like a baby for size. Marie-Madeleine was the name of
his wife; she was of Marseilles, a city of entrancing women, nor
was any fairer than herself. She was tall, being almost of a
height with Paradou; full-girdled, point-device in every form, with
an exquisite delicacy in the face; her nose and nostrils a delight
to look at from the fineness of the sculpture, her eyes inclined a
hair's-breadth inward, her colour between dark and fair, and laid
on even like a flower's. A faint rose dwelt in it, as though she
had been found unawares bathing, and had blushed from head to foot.
She was of a grave countenance, rarely smiling; yet it seemed to be
written upon every part of her that she rejoiced in life. Her
husband loved the heels of her feet and the knuckles of her
fingers; he loved her like a glutton and a brute; his love hung
about her like an atmosphere; one that came by chance into the
wine-shop was aware of that passion; and it might be said that by
the strength of it the woman had been drugged or spell-bound. She
knew not if she loved or loathed him; he was always in her eyes
like something monstrous--monstrous in his love, monstrous in his
person, horrific but imposing in his violence; and her sentiment
swung back and forward from desire to sickness. But the mean,
where it dwelt chiefly, was an apathetic fascination, partly of
horror; as of Europa in mid ocean with her bull.
On the 10th November 1749 there sat two of the foreign gentlemen in
the wine-seller's shop. They were both handsome men of a good
presence, richly dressed. The first was swarthy and long and lean,
with an alert, black look, and a mole upon his cheek. The other
was more fair. He seemed very easy and sedate, and a little
melancholy for so young a man, but his smile was charming. In his
grey eyes there was much abstraction, as of one recalling fondly
that which was past and lost. Yet there was strength and swiftness
in his limbs; and his mouth set straight across his face, the under
lip a thought upon side, like that of a man accustomed to resolve.
These two talked together in a rude outlandish speech that no
frequenter of that wine-shop understood. The swarthy man answered
to the name of Ballantrae; he of the dreamy eyes was sometimes
called Balmile, and sometimes MY LORD, or MY LORD GLADSMUIR; but
when the title was given him, he seemed to put it by as if in
jesting, not without bitterness.
The mistral blew in the city. The first day of that wind, they say
in the countries where its voice is heard, it blows away all the
dust, the second all the stones, and the third it blows back others
from the mountains. It was now come to the third day; outside the
pebbles flew like hail, and the face of the river was puckered, and
the very building-stones in the walls of houses seemed to be
curdled with the savage cold and fury of that continuous blast. It
could be heard to hoot in all the chimneys of the city; it swept
about the wine-shop, filling the room with eddies; the chill and
gritty touch of it passed between the nearest clothes and the bare
flesh; and the two gentlemen at the far table kept their mantles
loose about their shoulders. The roughness of these outer hulls,
for they were plain travellers' cloaks that had seen service, set
the greater mark of richness on what showed below of their laced
clothes; for the one was in scarlet and the other in violet and
white, like men come from a scene of ceremony; as indeed they were.
It chanced that these fine clothes were not without their influence
on the scene which followed, and which makes the prologue of our
tale. For a long time Balmile was in the habit to come to the
wine-shop and eat a meal or drink a measure of wine; sometimes with
a comrade; more often alone, when he would sit and dream and drum
upon the table, and the thoughts would show in the man's face in
little glooms and lightenings, like the sun and the clouds upon a
water. For a long time Marie-Madeleine had observed him apart.
His sadness, the beauty of his smile when by any chance he
remembered her existence and addressed her, the changes of his mind
signalled forth by an abstruse play of feature, the mere fact that
he was foreign and a thing detached from the local and the
accustomed, insensibly attracted and affected her. Kindness was
ready in her mind; it but lacked the touch of an occasion to
effervesce and crystallise. Now Balmile had come hitherto in a
very poor plain habit; and this day of the mistral, when his mantle
was just open, and she saw beneath it the glancing of the violet
and the velvet and the silver, and the clustering fineness of the
lace, it seemed to set the man in a new light, with which he shone
resplendent to her fancy.
The high inhuman note of the wind, the violence and continuity of
its outpouring, and the fierce touch of it upon man's whole
periphery, accelerated the functions of the mind. It set thoughts
whirling, as it whirled the trees of the forest; it stirred them up
in flights, as it stirred up the dust in chambers. As brief as
sparks, the fancies glittered and succeeded each other in the mind
of Marie-Madeleine; and the grave man with the smile, and the
bright clothes under the plain mantle, haunted her with incongruous
explanations. She considered him, the unknown, the speaker of an
unknown tongue, the hero (as she placed him) of an unknown romance,
the dweller upon unknown memories. She recalled him sitting there
alone, so immersed, so stupefied; yet she was sure he was not
stupid. She recalled one day when he had remained a long time
motionless, with parted lips, like one in the act of starting up,
his eyes fixed on vacancy. Any one else must have looked foolish;
but not he. She tried to conceive what manner of memory had thus
entranced him; she forged for him a past; she showed him to herself
in every light of heroism and greatness and misfortune; she brooded
with petulant intensity on all she knew and guessed of him. Yet,
though she was already gone so deep, she was still unashamed, still
unalarmed; her thoughts were still disinterested; she had still to
reach the stage at which--beside the image of that other whom we
love to contemplate and to adorn--we place the image of ourself and
behold them together with delight.
She stood within the counter, her hands clasped behind her back,
her shoulders pressed against the wall, her feet braced out. Her
face was bright with the wind and her own thoughts; as a fire in a
similar day of tempest glows and brightens on a hearth, so she
seemed to glow, standing there, and to breathe out energy. It was
the first time Ballantrae had visited that wine-seller's, the first
time he had seen the wife; and his eyes were true to her.
'I perceive your reason for carrying me to this very draughty
tavern,' he said at last.
'I believe it is propinquity,' returned Balmile.
'You play dark,' said Ballantrae, 'but have a care! Be more frank
with me, or I will cut you out. I go through no form of qualifying
my threat, which would be commonplace and not conscientious. There
is only one point in these campaigns: that is the degree of
admiration offered by the man; and to our hostess I am in a posture
to make victorious love.'
'If you think you have the time, or the game worth the candle,'
replied the other with a shrug.
'One would suppose you were never at the pains to observe her,'
'I am not very observant,' said Balmile. 'She seems comely.'
'You very dear and dull dog!' cried Ballantrae; 'chastity is the
most besotting of the virtues. Why, she has a look in her face
beyond singing! I believe, if you was to push me hard, I might
trace it home to a trifle of a squint. What matters? The height
of beauty is in the touch that's wrong, that's the modulation in a
tune. 'Tis the devil we all love; I owe many a conquest to my
mole'--he touched it as he spoke with a smile, and his eyes
glittered;--'we are all hunchbacks, and beauty is only that kind of
deformity that I happen to admire. But come! Because you are
chaste, for which I am sure I pay you my respects, that is no
reason why you should be blind. Look at her, look at the delicious
nose of her, look at her cheek, look at her ear, look at her hand
and wrist--look at the whole baggage from heels to crown, and tell
me if she wouldn't melt on a man's tongue.'
As Ballantrae spoke, half jesting, half enthusiastic, Balmile was
constrained to do as he was bidden. He looked at the woman,
admired her excellences, and was at the same time ashamed for
himself and his companion. So it befell that when Marie-Madeleine
raised her eyes, she met those of the subject of her contemplations
fixed directly on herself with a look that is unmistakable, the
look of a person measuring and valuing another--and, to clench the
false impression, that his glance was instantly and guiltily
withdrawn. The blood beat back upon her heart and leaped again;
her obscure thoughts flashed clear before her; she flew in fancy
straight to his arms like a wanton, and fled again on the instant
like a nymph. And at that moment there chanced an interruption,
which not only spared her embarrassment, but set the last
consecration on her now articulate love.
Into the wine-shop there came a French gentleman, arrayed in the
last refinement of the fashion, though a little tumbled by his
passage in the wind. It was to be judged he had come from the same
formal gathering at which the others had preceded him; and perhaps
that he had gone there in the hope to meet with them, for he came
up to Ballantrae with unceremonious eagerness.
'At last, here you are!' he cried in French. 'I thought I was to
miss you altogether.'
The Scotsmen rose, and Ballantrae, after the first greetings, laid
his hand on his companion's shoulder.
'My lord,' said he, 'allow me to present to you one of my best
friends and one of our best soldiers, the Lord Viscount Gladsmuir.'
The two bowed with the elaborate elegance of the period.
'Monseigneur,' said Balmile, 'je n'ai pas la pretention de
m'affubler d'un titre que la mauvaise fortune de mon roi ne me
permet pas de porter comma il sied. Je m'appelle, pour vous
servir, Blair de Balmile tout court.' [My lord, I have not the
effrontery to cumber myself with a title which the ill fortunes of
my king will not suffer me to bear the way it should be. I call
myself, at your service, plain Blair of Balmile.]
'Monsieur le Vicomte ou monsieur Bler' de Balmail,' replied the
newcomer, 'le nom n'y fait rien, et l'on connait vos beaux faits.'
[The name matters nothing, your gallant actions are known.]
A few more ceremonies, and these three, sitting down together to
the table, called for wine. It was the happiness of Marie-
Madeleine to wait unobserved upon the prince of her desires. She
poured the wine, he drank of it; and that link between them seemed
to her, for the moment, close as a caress. Though they lowered
their tones, she surprised great names passing in their
conversation, names of kings, the names of de Gesvre and Belle-
Isle; and the man who dealt in these high matters, and she who was
now coupled with him in her own thoughts, seemed to swim in mid air
in a transfiguration. Love is a crude core, but it has singular
and far-reaching fringes; in that passionate attraction for the
stranger that now swayed and mastered her, his harsh
incomprehensible language, and these names of grandees in his talk,
were each an element.
The Frenchman stayed not long, but it was plain he left behind him
matter of much interest to his companions; they spoke together
earnestly, their heads down, the woman of the wine-shop totally
forgotten; and they were still so occupied when Paradou returned.
This man's love was unsleeping. The even bluster of the mistral,
with which he had been combating some hours, had not suspended,
though it had embittered, that predominant passion. His first look
was for his wife, a look of hope and suspicion, menace and humility
and love, that made the over-blooming brute appear for the moment
almost beautiful. She returned his glance, at first as though she
knew him not, then with a swiftly waxing coldness of intent; and at
last, without changing their direction, she had closed her eyes.
There passed across her mind during that period much that Paradou
could not have understood had it been told to him in words:
chiefly the sense of an enlightening contrast betwixt the man who
talked of kings and the man who kept a wine-shop, betwixt the love
she yearned for and that to which she had been long exposed like a
victim bound upon the altar. There swelled upon her, swifter than
the Rhone, a tide of abhorrence and disgust. She had succumbed to
the monster, humbling herself below animals; and now she loved a
hero, aspiring to the semi-divine. It was in the pang of that
humiliating thought that she had closed her eyes.
Paradou--quick as beasts are quick, to translate silence--felt the
insult through his blood; his inarticulate soul bellowed within him
for revenge. He glanced about the shop. He saw the two
indifferent gentlemen deep in talk, and passed them over: his
fancy flying not so high. There was but one other present, a
country lout who stood swallowing his wine, equally unobserved by
all and unobserving--to him he dealt a glance of murderous
suspicion, and turned direct upon his wife. The wine-shop had lain
hitherto, a space of shelter, the scene of a few ceremonial
passages and some whispered conversation, in the howling river of
the wind; the clock had not yet ticked a score of times since
Paradou's appearance; and now, as he suddenly gave tongue, it
seemed as though the mistral had entered at his heels.
'What ails you, woman?' he cried, smiting on the counter.
'Nothing ails me,' she replied. It was strange; but she spoke and
stood at that moment like a lady of degree, drawn upward by her
'You speak to me, by God, as though you scorned me!' cried the
The man's passion was always formidable; she had often looked on
upon its violence with a thrill, it had been one ingredient in her
fascination; and she was now surprised to behold him, as from afar
off, gesticulating but impotent. His fury might be dangerous like
a torrent or a gust of wind, but it was inhuman; it might be feared
or braved, it should never be respected. And with that there came
in her a sudden glow of courage and that readiness to die which
attends so closely upon all strong passions.
'I do scorn you,' she said.
'What is that?' he cried.
'I scorn you,' she repeated, smiling.
'You love another man!' said he.
'With all my soul,' was her reply.
The wine-seller roared aloud so that the house rang and shook with
'Is this the--?' he cried, using a foul word, common in the South;
and he seized the young countryman and dashed him to the ground.
There he lay for the least interval of time insensible; thence fled
from the house, the most terrified person in the county. The heavy
measure had escaped from his hands, splashing the wine high upon
the wall. Paradou caught it. 'And you?' he roared to his wife,
giving her the same name in the feminine, and he aimed at her the
deadly missile. She expected it, motionless, with radiant eyes.
But before it sped, Paradou was met by another adversary, and the
unconscious rivals stood confronted. It was hard to say at that
moment which appeared the more formidable. In Paradou, the whole
muddy and truculent depths of the half-man were stirred to frenzy;
the lust of destruction raged in him; there was not a feature in
his face but it talked murder. Balmile had dropped his cloak: he
shone out at once in his finery, and stood to his full stature;
girt in mind and body all his resources, all his temper, perfectly
in command in his face the light of battle. Neither spoke; there
was no blow nor threat of one; it was war reduced to its last
element, the spiritual; and the huge wine-seller slowly lowered his
weapon. Balmile was a noble, he a commoner; Balmile exulted in an
honourable cause. Paradou already perhaps began to be ashamed of
his violence. Of a sudden, at least, the tortured brute turned and
fled from the shop in the footsteps of his former victim, to whose
continued flight his reappearance added wings.
So soon as Balmile appeared between her husband and herself, Marie-
Madeleine transferred to him her eyes. It might be her last
moment, and she fed upon that face; reading there inimitable
courage and illimitable valour to protect. And when the momentary
peril was gone by, and the champion turned a little awkwardly
towards her whom he had rescued, it was to meet, and quail before,
a gaze of admiration more distinct than words. He bowed, he
stammered, his words failed him; he who had crossed the floor a
moment ago, like a young god, to smite, returned like one
discomfited; got somehow to his place by the table, muffled himself
again in his discarded cloak, and for a last touch of the
ridiculous, seeking for anything to restore his countenance, drank
of the wine before him, deep as a porter after a heavy lift. It
was little wonder if Ballantrae, reading the scene with malevolent
eyes, laughed out loud and brief, and drank with raised glass, 'To
the champion of the Fair.'
Marie-Madeleine stood in her old place within the counter; she
disdained the mocking laughter; it fell on her ears, but it did not
reach her spirit. For her, the world of living persons was all
resumed again into one pair, as in the days of Eden; there was but
the one end in life, the one hope before her, the one thing
needful, the one thing possible--to be his.
CHAPTER I--THE PRINCE
That same night there was in the city of Avignon a young man in
distress of mind. Now he sat, now walked in a high apartment, full
of draughts and shadows. A single candle made the darkness
visible; and the light scarce sufficed to show upon the wall, where
they had been recently and rudely nailed, a few miniatures and a
copper medal of the young man's head. The same was being sold that
year in London, to admiring thousands. The original was fair; he
had beautiful brown eyes, a beautiful bright open face; a little
feminine, a little hard, a little weak; still full of the light of
youth, but already beginning to be vulgarised; a sordid bloom come
upon it, the lines coarsened with a touch of puffiness. He was
dressed, as for a gala, in peach-colour and silver; his breast
sparkled with stars and was bright with ribbons; for he had held a
levee in the afternoon and received a distinguished personage
incognito. Now he sat with a bowed head, now walked precipitately
to and fro, now went and gazed from the uncurtained window, where
the wind was still blowing, and the lights winked in the darkness.
The bells of Avignon rose into song as he was gazing; and the high
notes and the deep tossed and drowned, boomed suddenly near or were
suddenly swallowed up, in the current of the mistral. Tears sprang
in the pale blue eyes; the expression of his face was changed to
that of a more active misery, it seemed as if the voices of the
bells reached, and touched and pained him, in a waste of vacancy
where even pain was welcome. Outside in the night they continued
to sound on, swelling and fainting; and the listener heard in his
memory, as it were their harmonies, joy-bells clashing in a
northern city, and the acclamations of a multitude, the cries of
battle, the gross voices of cannon, the stridor of an animated
life. And then all died away, and he stood face to face with
himself in the waste of vacancy, and a horror came upon his mind,
and a faintness on his brain, such as seizes men upon the brink of
On the table, by the side of the candle, stood a tray of glasses, a
bottle, and a silver bell. He went thither swiftly, then his hand
lowered first above the bell, then settled on the bottle. Slowly
he filled a glass, slowly drank it out; and, as a tide of animal
warmth recomforted the recesses of his nature, stood there smiling
at himself. He remembered he was young; the funeral curtains rose,
and he saw his life shine and broaden and flow out majestically,
like a river sunward. The smile still on his lips, he lit a second
candle and a third; a fire stood ready built in a chimney, he lit
that also; and the fir-cones and the gnarled olive billets were
swift to break in flame and to crackle on the hearth, and the room
brightened and enlarged about him like his hopes. To and fro, to
and fro, he went, his hands lightly clasped, his breath deeply and
pleasurably taken. Victory walked with him; he marched to crowns
and empires among shouting followers; glory was his dress. And
presently again the shadows closed upon the solitary. Under the
gilt of flame and candle-light, the stone walls of the apartment
showed down bare and cold; behind the depicted triumph loomed up
the actual failure: defeat, the long distress of the flight,
exile, despair, broken followers, mourning faces, empty pockets,
friends estranged. The memory of his father rose in his mind: he,
too, estranged and defied; despair sharpened into wrath. There was
one who had led armies in the field, who had staked his life upon
the family enterprise, a man of action and experience, of the open
air, the camp, the court, the council-room; and he was to accept
direction from an old, pompous gentleman in a home in Italy, and
buzzed about by priests? A pretty king, if he had not a martial
son to lean upon! A king at all?
'There was a weaver (of all people) joined me at St. Ninians; he
was more of a man than my papa!' he thought. 'I saw him lie
doubled in his blood and a grenadier below him--and he died for my
papa! All died for him, or risked the dying, and I lay for him all
those months in the rain and skulked in heather like a fox; and now
he writes me his advice! calls me Carluccio--me, the man of the
house, the only king in that king's race.' He ground his teeth.
'The only king in Europe!' Who else? Who has done and suffered
except me? who has lain and run and hidden with his faithful
subjects, like a second Bruce? Not my accursed cousin, Louis of
France, at least, the lewd effeminate traitor!' And filling the
glass to the brim, he drank a king's damnation. Ah, if he had the
power of Louis, what a king were here!
The minutes followed each other into the past, and still he
persevered in this debilitating cycle of emotions, still fed the
fire of his excitement with driblets of Rhine wine: a boy at odds
with life, a boy with a spark of the heroic, which he was now
burning out and drowning down in futile reverie and solitary
From two rooms beyond, the sudden sound of a raised voice attracted
'By . . .
CHAPTER I--TRAQUAIRS OF MONTROYMONT
The period of this tale is in the heat of the KILLING-TIME; the
scene laid for the most part in solitary hills and morasses,
haunted only by the so-called Mountain Wanderers, the dragoons that
came in chase of them, the women that wept on their dead bodies,
and the wild birds of the moorland that have cried there since the
beginning. It is a land of many rain-clouds; a land of much mute
history, written there in prehistoric symbols. Strange green raths
are to be seen commonly in the country, above all by the kirkyards;
barrows of the dead, standing stones; beside these, the faint,
durable footprints and handmarks of the Roman; and an antiquity
older perhaps than any, and still living and active--a complete
Celtic nomenclature and a scarce-mingled Celtic population. These
rugged and grey hills were once included in the boundaries of the
Caledonian Forest. Merlin sat here below his apple-tree and
lamented Gwendolen; here spoke with Kentigern; here fell into his
enchanted trance. And the legend of his slumber seems to body
forth the story of that Celtic race, deprived for so many centuries
of their authentic speech, surviving with their ancestral
inheritance of melancholy perversity and patient, unfortunate
The Traquairs of Montroymont (Mons Romanus, as the erudite expound
it) had long held their seat about the head-waters of the Dule and
in the back parts of the moorland parish of Balweary. For two
hundred years they had enjoyed in these upland quarters a certain
decency (almost to be named distinction) of repute; and the annals
of their house, or what is remembered of them, were obscure and
bloody. Ninian Traquair was 'cruallie slochtered' by the Crozers
at the kirk-door of Balweary, anno 1482. Francis killed Simon
Ruthven of Drumshoreland, anno 1540; bought letters of slayers at
the widow and heir, and, by a barbarous form of compounding,
married (without tocher) Simon's daughter Grizzel, which is the way
the Traquairs and Ruthvens came first to an intermarriage. About
the last Traquair and Ruthven marriage, it is the business of this
book, among many other things, to tell.
The Traquairs were always strong for the Covenant; for the King
also, but the Covenant first; and it began to be ill days for
Montroymont when the Bishops came in and the dragoons at the heels
of them. Ninian (then laird) was an anxious husband of himself and
the property, as the times required, and it may be said of him,
that he lost both. He was heavily suspected of the Pentland Hills
rebellion. When it came the length of Bothwell Brig, he stood his
trial before the Secret Council, and was convicted of talking with
some insurgents by the wayside, the subject of the conversation not
very clearly appearing, and of the reset and maintenance of one
Gale, a gardener man, who was seen before Bothwell with a musket,
and afterwards, for a continuance of months, delved the garden at
Montroymont. Matters went very ill with Ninian at the Council;
some of the lords were clear for treason; and even the boot was
talked of. But he was spared that torture; and at last, having
pretty good friendship among great men, he came off with a fine of
seven thousand marks, that caused the estate to groan. In this
case, as in so many others, it was the wife that made the trouble.
She was a great keeper of conventicles; would ride ten miles to
one, and when she was fined, rejoiced greatly to suffer for the
Kirk; but it was rather her husband that suffered. She had their
only son, Francis, baptized privately by the hands of Mr. Kidd;
there was that much the more to pay for! She could neither be
driven nor wiled into the parish kirk; as for taking the sacrament
at the hands of any Episcopalian curate, and tenfold more at those
of Curate Haddo, there was nothing further from her purposes; and
Montroymont had to put his hand in his pocket month by month and
year by year. Once, indeed, the little lady was cast in prison,
and the laird, worthy, heavy, uninterested man, had to ride up and
take her place; from which he was not discharged under nine months
and a sharp fine. It scarce seemed she had any gratitude to him;
she came out of gaol herself, and plunged immediately deeper in
conventicles, resetting recusants, and all her old, expensive
folly, only with greater vigour and openness, because Montroymont
was safe in the Tolbooth and she had no witness to consider. When
he was liberated and came back, with his fingers singed, in
December 1680, and late in the black night, my lady was from home.
He came into the house at his alighting, with a riding-rod yet in
his hand; and, on the servant-maid telling him, caught her by the
scruff of the neck, beat her violently, flung her down in the
passageway, and went upstairs to his bed fasting and without a
light. It was three in the morning when my lady returned from that
conventicle, and, hearing of the assault (because the maid had sat
up for her, weeping), went to their common chamber with a lantern
in hand and stamping with her shoes so as to wake the dead; it was
supposed, by those that heard her, from a design to have it out
with the good man at once. The house-servants gathered on the
stair, because it was a main interest with them to know which of
these two was the better horse; and for the space of two hours they
were heard to go at the matter, hammer and tongs. Montroymont
alleged he was at the end of possibilities; it was no longer within
his power to pay the annual rents; she had served him basely by
keeping conventicles while he lay in prison for her sake; his
friends were weary, and there was nothing else before him but the
entire loss of the family lands, and to begin life again by the
wayside as a common beggar. She took him up very sharp and high:
called upon him, if he were a Christian? and which he most
considered, the loss of a few dirty, miry glebes, or of his soul?
Presently he was heard to weep, and my lady's voice to go on
continually like a running burn, only the words indistinguishable;
whereupon it was supposed a victory for her ladyship, and the
domestics took themselves to bed. The next day Traquair appeared
like a man who had gone under the harrows; and his lady wife
thenceforward continued in her old course without the least
Thenceforward Ninian went on his way without complaint, and
suffered his wife to go on hers without remonstrance. He still
minded his estate, of which it might be said he took daily a fresh
farewell, and counted it already lost; looking ruefully on the
acres and the graves of his fathers, on the moorlands where the
wild-fowl consorted, the low, gurgling pool of the trout, and the
high, windy place of the calling curlews--things that were yet his
for the day and would be another's to-morrow; coming back again,
and sitting ciphering till the dusk at his approaching ruin, which
no device of arithmetic could postpone beyond a year or two. He
was essentially the simple ancient man, the farmer and landholder;
he would have been content to watch the seasons come and go, and
his cattle increase, until the limit of age; he would have been
content at any time to die, if he could have left the estates
undiminished to an heir-male of his ancestors, that duty standing
first in his instinctive calendar. And now he saw everywhere the
image of the new proprietor come to meet him, and go sowing and
reaping, or fowling for his pleasure on the red moors, or eating
the very gooseberries in the Place garden; and saw always, on the
other hand, the figure of Francis go forth, a beggar, into the
It was in vain the poor gentleman sought to moderate; took every
test and took advantage of every indulgence; went and drank with
the dragoons in Balweary; attended the communion and came regularly
to the church to Curate Haddo, with his son beside him. The mad,
raging, Presbyterian zealot of a wife at home made all of no avail;
and indeed the house must have fallen years before if it had not
been for the secret indulgence of the curate, who had a great
sympathy with the laird, and winked hard at the doings in
Montroymont. This curate was a man very ill reputed in the
countryside, and indeed in all Scotland. 'Infamous Haddo' is
Shield's expression. But Patrick Walker is more copious. 'Curate
Hall Haddo,' says he, sub voce Peden, 'or Hell Haddo, as he was
more justly to be called, a pokeful of old condemned errors and the
filthy vile lusts of the flesh, a published whore-monger, a common
gross drunkard, continually and godlessly scraping and skirling on
a fiddle, continually breathing flames against the remnant of
Israel. But the Lord put an end to his piping, and all these
offences were composed into one bloody grave.' No doubt this was
written to excuse his slaughter; and I have never heard it claimed
for Walker that he was either a just witness or an indulgent judge.
At least, in a merely human character, Haddo comes off not wholly
amiss in the matter of these Traquairs: not that he showed any
graces of the Christian, but had a sort of Pagan decency, which
might almost tempt one to be concerned about his sudden, violent,
and unprepared fate.
Francie was eleven years old, shy, secret, and rather childish of
his age, though not backward in schooling, which had been pushed on
far by a private governor, one M'Brair, a forfeited minister
harboured in that capacity at Montroymont. The boy, already much
employed in secret by his mother, was the most apt hand conceivable
to run upon a message, to carry food to lurking fugitives, or to
stand sentry on the skyline above a conventicle. It seemed no
place on the moorlands was so naked but what he would find cover
there; and as he knew every hag, boulder, and heather-bush in a
circuit of seven miles about Montroymont, there was scarce any spot
but what he could leave or approach it unseen. This dexterity had
won him a reputation in that part of the country; and among the
many children employed in these dangerous affairs, he passed under
the by-name of Heathercat.
How much his father knew of this employment might be doubted. He
took much forethought for the boy's future, seeing he was like to
be left so poorly, and would sometimes assist at his lessons,
sighing heavily, yawning deep, and now and again patting Francie on
the shoulder if he seemed to be doing ill, by way of a private,
kind encouragement. But a great part of the day was passed in
aimless wanderings with his eyes sealed, or in his cabinet sitting
bemused over the particulars of the coming bankruptcy; and the boy
would be absent a dozen times for once that his father would
On 2nd of July 1682 the boy had an errand from his mother, which
must be kept private from all, the father included in the first of
them. Crossing the braes, he hears the clatter of a horse's shoes,
and claps down incontinent in a hag by the wayside. And presently
he spied his father come riding from one direction, and Curate
Haddo walking from another; and Montroymont leaning down from the
saddle, and Haddo getting on his toes (for he was a little, ruddy,
bald-pated man, more like a dwarf), they greeted kindly, and came
to a halt within two fathoms of the child.
'Montroymont,' the curate said, 'the deil's in 't but I'll have to
denunciate your leddy again.'
'Deil's in 't indeed!' says the laird.
'Man! can ye no induce her to come to the kirk?' pursues Haddo; 'or
to a communion at the least of it? For the conventicles, let be!
and the same for yon solemn fule, M'Brair: I can blink at them.
But she's got to come to the kirk, Montroymont.'
'Dinna speak of it,' says the laird. 'I can do nothing with her.'
'Couldn't ye try the stick to her? it works wonders whiles,'
suggested Haddo. 'No? I'm wae to hear it. And I suppose ye ken
where you're going?'
'Fine!' said Montroymont. 'Fine do I ken where: bankrup'cy and
the Bass Rock!'
'Praise to my bones that I never married!' cried the curate.
'Well, it's a grievous thing to me to see an auld house dung down
that was here before Flodden Field. But naebody can say it was
with my wish.'
'No more they can, Haddo!' says the laird. 'A good friend ye've
been to me, first and last. I can give you that character with a
Whereupon they separated, and Montroymont rode briskly down into
the Dule Valley. But of the curate Francis was not to be quit so
easily. He went on with his little, brisk steps to the corner of a
dyke, and stopped and whistled and waved upon a lassie that was
herding cattle there. This Janet M'Clour was a big lass, being
taller than the curate; and what made her look the more so, she was
kilted very high. It seemed for a while she would not come, and
Francie heard her calling Haddo a 'daft auld fule,' and saw her
running and dodging him among the whins and hags till he was fairly
blown. But at the last he gets a bottle from his plaid-neuk and
holds it up to her; whereupon she came at once into a composition,
and the pair sat, drinking of the bottle, and daffing and laughing
together, on a mound of heather. The boy had scarce heard of these
vanities, or he might have been minded of a nymph and satyr, if
anybody could have taken long-leggit Janet for a nymph. But they
seemed to be huge friends, he thought; and was the more surprised,
when the curate had taken his leave, to see the lassie fling stones
after him with screeches of laughter, and Haddo turn about and
caper, and shake his staff at her, and laugh louder than herself.
A wonderful merry pair, they seemed; and when Francie had crawled
out of the hag, he had a great deal to consider in his mind. It
was possible they were all fallen in error about Mr. Haddo, he
reflected--having seen him so tender with Montroymont, and so kind
and playful with the lass Janet; and he had a temptation to go out
of his road and question her herself upon the matter. But he had a
strong spirit of duty on him; and plodded on instead over the braes
till he came near the House of Cairngorm. There, in a hollow place
by the burnside that was shaded by some birks, he was aware of a
barefoot boy, perhaps a matter of three years older than himself.
The two approached with the precautions of a pair of strange dogs,
looking at each other queerly.
'It's ill weather on the hills,' said the stranger, giving the
'For a season,' said Francie, 'but the Lord will appear.'
'Richt,' said the barefoot boy; 'wha're ye frae?'
'The Leddy Montroymont,' says Francie.
'Ha'e, then!' says the stranger, and handed him a folded paper, and
they stood and looked at each other again. 'It's unco het,' said
'Dooms het,' says Francie.
'What do they ca' ye?' says the other.
'Francie,' says he. 'I'm young Montroymont. They ca' me
'I'm Jock Crozer,' said the boy. And there was another pause,
while each rolled a stone under his foot.
'Cast your jaiket and I'll fecht ye for a bawbee,' cried the elder
boy with sudden violence, and dramatically throwing back his
'Na, I've nae time the now,' said Francie, with a sharp thrill of
alarm, because Crozer was much the heavier boy.
'Ye're feared. Heathercat indeed!' said Crozer, for among this
infantile army of spies and messengers, the fame of Crozer had gone
forth and was resented by his rivals. And with that they
On his way home Francie was a good deal occupied with the
recollection of this untoward incident. The challenge had been
fairly offered and basely refused: the tale would be carried all
over the country, and the lustre of the name of Heathercat be
dimmed. But the scene between Curate Haddo and Janet M'Clour had
also given him much to think of: and he was still puzzling over
the case of the curate, and why such ill words were said of him,
and why, if he were so merry-spirited, he should yet preach so dry,
when coming over a knowe, whom should he see but Janet, sitting
with her back to him, minding her cattle! He was always a great
child for secret, stealthy ways, having been employed by his mother
on errands when the same was necessary; and he came behind the lass
without her hearing.
'Jennet,' says he.
'Keep me,' cries Janet, springing up. 'O, it's you, Maister
Francie! Save us, what a fricht ye gied me.'
'Ay, it's me,' said Francie. 'I've been thinking, Jennet; I saw
you and the curate a while back--'
'Brat!' cried Janet, and coloured up crimson; and the one moment
made as if she would have stricken him with a ragged stick she had
to chase her bestial with, and the next was begging and praying
that he would mention it to none. It was 'naebody's business,
whatever,' she said; 'it would just start a clash in the country';
and there would be nothing left for her but to drown herself in
'Why?' says Francie.
The girl looked at him and grew scarlet again.
'And it isna that, anyway,' continued Francie. 'It was just that
he seemed so good to ye--like our Father in heaven, I thought; and
I thought that mebbe, perhaps, we had all been wrong about him from
the first. But I'll have to tell Mr. M'Brair; I'm under a kind of
a bargain to him to tell him all.'
'Tell it to the divil if ye like for me!' cried the lass. 'I've
naething to be ashamed of. Tell M'Brair to mind his ain affairs,'
she cried again: 'they'll be hot eneugh for him, if Haddie likes!'
And so strode off, shoving her beasts before her, and ever and
again looking back and crying angry words to the boy, where he
By the time he had got home his mind was made up that he would say
nothing to his mother. My Lady Montroymont was in the keeping-
room, reading a godly book; she was a wonderful frail little wife
to make so much noise in the world and be able to steer about that
patient sheep her husband; her eyes were like sloes, the fingers of
her hands were like tobacco-pipe shanks, her mouth shut tight like
a trap; and even when she was the most serious, and still more when
she was angry, there hung about her face the terrifying semblance
of a smile.
'Have ye gotten the billet, Francie said she; and when he had
handed it over, and she had read and burned it, 'Did you see
anybody?' she asked.
'I saw the laird,' said Francie.
'He didna see you, though?' asked his mother.
'Deil a fear,' from Francie.
'Francie!' she cried. 'What's that I hear? an aith? The Lord
forgive me, have I broughten forth a brand for the burning, a fagot
'I'm very sorry, ma'am,' said Francie. 'I humbly beg the Lord's
pardon, and yours, for my wickedness.'
'H'm,' grunted the lady. 'Did ye see nobody else?'
'No, ma'am,' said Francie, with the face of an angel, 'except Jock
Crozer, that gied me the billet.'
'Jock Crozer!' cried the lady. 'I'll Crozer them! Crozers indeed!
What next? Are we to repose the lives of a suffering remnant in
Crozers? The whole clan of them wants hanging, and if I had my way
of it, they wouldna want it long. Are you aware, sir, that these
Crozers killed your forebear at the kirk-door?'
'You see, he was bigger 'n me,' said Francie.
'Jock Crozer!' continued the lady. 'That'll be Clement's son, the
biggest thief and reiver in the country-side. To trust a note to
him! But I'll give the benefit of my opinions to Lady Whitecross
when we two forgather. Let her look to herself! I have no
patience with half-hearted carlines, that complies on the Lord's
day morning with the kirk, and comes taigling the same night to the
conventicle. The one or the other! is what I say: hell or heaven-
-Haddie's abominations or the pure word of God dreeping from the
lips of Mr. Arnot,
'"Like honey from the honeycomb
That dreepeth, sweeter far."'
My lady was now fairly launched, and that upon two congenial
subjects: the deficiencies of the Lady Whitecross and the
turpitudes of the whole Crozer race--which, indeed, had never been
conspicuous for respectability. She pursued the pair of them for
twenty minutes on the clock with wonderful animation and detail,
something of the pulpit manner, and the spirit of one possessed.
'O hellish compliance!' she exclaimed. 'I would not suffer a
complier to break bread with Christian folk. Of all the sins of
this day there is not one so God-defying, so Christ-humiliating, as
damnable compliance': the boy standing before her meanwhile, and
brokenly pursuing other thoughts, mainly of Haddo and Janet, and
Jock Crozer stripping off his jacket. And yet, with all his
distraction, it might be argued that he heard too much: his father
and himself being 'compliers'--that is to say, attending the church
of the parish as the law required.
Presently, the lady's passion beginning to decline, or her flux of
ill words to be exhausted, she dismissed her audience. Francie
bowed low, left the room, closed the door behind him: and then
turned him about in the passage-way, and with a low voice, but a
prodigious deal of sentiment, repeated the name of the evil one
twenty times over, to the end of which, for the greater efficacy,
he tacked on 'damnable' and 'hellish.' Fas est ab hoste doceri--
disrespect is made more pungent by quotation; and there is no doubt
but he felt relieved, and went upstairs into his tutor's chamber
with a quiet mind. M'Brair sat by the cheek of the peat-fire and
shivered, for he had a quartan ague and this was his day. The
great night-cap and plaid, the dark unshaven cheeks of the man, and
the white, thin hands that held the plaid about his chittering
body, made a sorrowful picture. But Francie knew and loved him;
came straight in, nestled close to the refugee, and told his story.
M'Brair had been at the College with Haddo; the Presbytery had
licensed both on the same day; and at this tale, told with so much
innocency by the boy, the heart of the tutor was commoved.
'Woe upon him! Woe upon that man!' he cried. 'O the unfaithful
shepherd! O the hireling and apostate minister! Make my matters
hot for me? quo' she! the shameless limmer! And true it is, that
he could repose me in that nasty, stinking hole, the Canongate
Tolbooth, from which your mother drew me out--the Lord reward her
for it!--or to that cold, unbieldy, marine place of the Bass Rock,
which, with my delicate kist, would be fair ruin to me. But I will
be valiant in my Master's service. I have a duty here: a duty to
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