Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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mercy. There was a fire burning in the grate, and twice he held the
paper over it, and twice turned away from his better self.

The watchman was calling "half-past two o'clock," when, cold and weary
with his mental struggle, he rose and went to his desk. There was a
secret hiding-place behind a drawer there, in which he kept papers
relating to his transactions with Andrew Starkie, and he put it among
them. "I'll leave it to its chance," he muttered; "a fire might come
and burn it up some day. If it is God's will to save Donald, he could
so order it, and I am fully insured against pecuniary loss." He did
not at that moment see how presumptuously he was throwing his own
responsibility on God; he did not indeed want to see anything but some
plausible way of avoiding a road too steep for a heart weighed down
with earthly passion to dare.

Then weeks and months drifted away in the calm regular routine of
David's life. But though there were no outward changes, there was a
very important inward one. About sixteen months after Donald's
departure he returned to visit Christine. James, at Christine's urgent
request, absented himself during this visit; but when he next called
at David's, he perceived at once that all was not as had been
anticipated. David had little to say about him; Christine looked paler
and sadder than ever. Neither quite understood why. There had been no
visible break with Donald, but both father and daughter felt that he
had drifted far away from them and their humble, pious life. Donald
had lost the child's heart he had brought with him from the mountains;
he was ambitious of honors, and eager after worldly pleasures and
advantages. He had become more gravely handsome, and he talked more
sensibly to David; but David liked him less.

After this visit there sprang up a new hope in James' heart, and he
waited and watched, though often with very angry feelings; for he was
sure that Donald was gradually deserting Christine.

She grew daily more sad and silent; it was evident she was suffering.
The little Testament lay now always with her work, and he noticed that
she frequently laid aside her sewing and read it earnestly, even while
David and he were quietly talking at the fireside.

One Sabbath, two years after Donald's departure, James met David
coming out of church alone. He could only say, "I hope Christine is

"Had she been well, she had been wi' me; thou kens that, James."

"I might have done so. Christine is never absent from God's house when
it is open."

"It is a good plan, James; for when they who go regular to God's house
are forced to stay away, God himself asks after them. I hae no doubt
but what Christine has been visited."

They walked on in silence until David's house was in sight. "I'm no
caring for any company earth can gie me the night, James; but the morn
I hae something to tell you I canna speak anent to-day."


The next day David came into the bank about noon, and said, "Come wi'
me to McLellan's, James, and hae a mutton pie, it's near by
lunch-time." While they were eating it David said, "Donald McFarlane
is to be wedded next month. He's making a grand marriage."

James bit his lip, but said nothing.

"He's spoken for Miss Margaret Napier; her father was ane o' the Lords
o' Session; she's his sole heiress, and that will mean £50,000, foreby
the bonnie place and lands o' Ellenshawe."

"And Christine?"

"Dinna look that way, man. Christine is content; she kens weel enough
she isna like her cousin."

"God be thanked she is not. Go away from me, David Cameron, or I shall
say words that will make more suffering than you can dream off. Go
away, man."

David was shocked and grieved at his companion's passion. "James," he
said solemnly, "dinna mak a fool o' yoursel'. I hae long seen your
ill-will at Donald. Let it go. Donald's aboon your thumb now, and the
anger o' a poor man aye falls on himsel'."

"For God's sake don't tempt me farther. You little know what I could
do if I had the ill heart to do it."

"Ow! ay!" said David scornfully, "if the poor cat had only wings it
would extirpate the race of sparrows from the world; but when the
wings arena there, James lad, it is just as weel to mak no boast o'

James had leaned his head in his hands, and was whispering,
"Christine! Christine! Christine!" in a rapid inaudible voice. He took
no notice of David's remark, and David was instantly sorry for it.
"The puir lad is just sorrowful wi' love for Christine, and that's nae
sin that I can see," he thought. "James," he said kindly, "I am sorry
enough to grieve you. Come as soon as you can like to do it. You'll be

James slightly nodded his head, but did not move; and David left him
alone in the little boarded room where they had eaten. In a few
minutes he collected himself, and, like one dazed, walked back to his
place in the bank. Never had its hours seemed so long, never had the
noise and traffic, the tramping of feet, and the banging of doors
seemed so intolerable. As early as possible he was at David's, and
David, with that fine instinct that a kind heart teaches, said as he
entered, "Gude evening, James. Gae awa ben and keep Christine company.
I'm that busy that I'll no shut up for half an hour yet."

James found Christine in her usual place. The hearth had been freshly
swept, the fire blazed brightly, and she sat before it with her white
seam in her hand. She raised her eyes at James' entrance, and
smilingly nodded to a vacant chair near her. He took it silently.
Christine seemed annoyed at his silence in a little while, and asked,
"Why don't you speak, James? Have you nothing to say?"

"A great deal, Christine. What now do you think of Donald McFarlane?"

"I think well of Donald."

"And of his marriage also?"

"Certainly I do. When he was here I saw how unfit I was to be his
wife. I told him so, and bid him seek a mate more suitable to his
position and prospects."

"Do you think it right to let yonder lady wed such a man with her eyes

"Are you going to open them?" Her face was sad and mournful, and she
laid her hand gently on James' shoulder.

"I think it is my duty, Christine."

"Think again, James. Be sure it is your duty before you go on such an
errand. See if you dare kneel down and ask God to bless you in this

"Christine, you treat me very hardly. You know how I love you, and you
use your power over me unmercifully."

"No, no, James, I only want you to keep yourself out of the power of
Satan. If indeed I have any share in your heart, do not wrong me by
giving Satan a place there also. Let me at least respect you, James."

Christine had never spoken in this way before to him; the majesty and
purity of her character lifted him insensibly to higher thoughts, her
gentleness soothed and comforted him. When David came in he found them
talking in a calm, cheerful tone, and the evening that followed was
one of the pleasantest he could remember. Yet James understood that
Christine trusted in his forbearance, and he had no heart to grieve
her, especially as she did her best to reward him by striving to make
his visits to her father unusually happy.

So Donald married Miss Napier, and the newspapers were full of the
bridegroom's beauty and talents, and the bride's high lineage and
great possessions. After this Donald and Donald's affairs seemed to
very little trouble David's humble household. His marriage put him far
away from Christine's thoughts, for her delicate conscience would have
regarded it as a great sin to remember with any feeling of love
another woman's affianced husband; and when the struggle became one
between right and wrong, it was ended for Christine. David seldom
named him, and so Donald McFarlane gradually passed out of the lives
he had so sorely troubled.

Slowly but surely James continued to prosper; he rose to be cashier in
the bank, and he won a calm but certain place in Christine's regard.
She had never quite recovered the shock of her long illness; she was
still very frail, and easily exhausted by the least fatigue or
excitement. But in James' eyes she was perfect; he was always at his
best in her presence, and he was a very proud and happy man when,
after eight years' patient waiting and wooing, he won from her the
promise to be his wife; for he knew that with Christine the promise
meant all that it ought to mean.

The marriage made few changes in her peaceful life. James left the
bank, put his savings in David's business, and became his partner. But
they continued to live in the same house, and year after year passed
away in that happy calm which leaves no records, and has no fate days
for the future to date from.

Sometimes a letter, a newspaper, or some public event, would bring
back the memory of the gay, handsome lad that had once made so bright
the little back parlor. Such strays from Donald's present life were
always pleasant ones. In ten years he had made great strides forward.
Every one had a good word for him. His legal skill was quoted as
authority, his charities were munificent, his name unblemished by a
single mean deed.

Had James forgotten? No, indeed. Donald's success only deepened his
hatred of him. Even the silence he was compelled to keep on the
subject intensified the feeling. Once after his marriage he attempted
to discuss the subject with Christine, but the scene had been so
painful he had never attempted it again; and David was swift and
positive to dismiss any unfavorable allusion to Donald. Once, on
reading that "Advocate McFarlane had joined the Free Kirk of Scotland
on open confession of faith," James flung down the paper and said
pointedly, "I wonder whether he confessed his wrong-doing before his
faith or not."

"There's nane sae weel shod, James, that they mayna slip," answered
David, with a stern face. "He has united wi' Dr. Buchan's
kirk - there's nane taken into that fellowship unworthily, as far as
man can judge."

"He would be a wise minister that got at all Advocate McFarlane's
sins, I am thinking."

"Dinna say all ye think, James. They walk too fair for earth that
naebody can find fault wi'."

So James nursed the evil passion in his own heart; indeed, he had
nursed it so long that he could not of himself resign it, and in all
his prayers - and he did pray frequently, and often sincerely - he never
named this subject to God, never once asked for his counsel or help in
the matter.

Twelve years after his marriage with Christine David died, died as he
had often wished to die, very suddenly. He was well at noon; at night
he had put on the garments of eternal Sabbath. He had but a few
moments of consciousness in which to bid farewell to his children.
"Christine," he said cheerfully, "we'll no be lang parted, dear
lassie;" and to James a few words on his affairs, and then almost with
his last breath, "James, heed what I say: 'Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall - obtain mercy.'"

There seemed to have been some prophetic sense in David's parting
words to his daughter, for soon after his death she began to fail
rapidly. What James suffered as he saw it only those can tell who have
watched their beloved slowly dying, and hoped against hope day after
day and week after week. Perhaps the hardest part was the knowledge
that she had never recovered the health she had previous to the
terrible shock which his revelation of Donald's guilt had been to her.
He forgot his own share in the shock and threw the whole blame of her
early decay on Donald. "And if she dies," he kept saying in his angry
heart, "I will make him suffer for it."

And Christine was drawing very near to death, though even when she was
confined to her room and bed James would not believe it. And it was at
this time that Donald came once more to Glasgow. There was a very
exciting general election for a new Parliament, and Donald stood for
the Conservative party in the city of Glasgow. Nothing could have so
speedily ripened James' evil purpose. Should a forger represent his
native city? Should he see the murderer of his Christine win honor
upon honor, when he had but to speak and place him among thieves?

During the struggle he worked frantically to defeat him - and failed.
That night he came home like a man possessed by some malicious,
ungovernable spirit of hell. He would not go to Christine's room, for
he was afraid she would discover his purpose in his face, and win him
from it. For now he had sworn to himself that he would only wait until
the congratulatory dinner. He could get an invitation to it. All the
bailies and the great men of the city would be there. The newspaper
reporters would be there. His triumph would be complete. Donald would
doubtless make a great speech, and after it _he_ would say his few

Then he thought of Christine. But she did not move him now, for she
was never likely to hear of it. She was confined to her bed; she read
nothing but her Bible; she saw no one but her nurse. He would charge
the nurse, and he would keep all papers and letters from her. He
thought of nothing now but the near gratification of a revengeful
purpose for which he had waited twenty years. Oh, how sweet it seemed
to him!

The dinner was to be in a week, and during the next few days he was
like a man in a bad dream. He neglected his business, and wandered
restlessly about the house, and looked so fierce and haggard that
Christine began to notice, to watch, and to fear. She knew that Donald
was in the city, and her heart told her that it was his presence only
that could so alter her husband; and she poured it out in strong
supplications for strength and wisdom to avert the calamity she felt

That night her nurse became sick and could not remain with her, and
James, half reluctantly, took her place, for he feared Christine's
influence now. She would ask him to read the Bible, to pray with her;
she might talk to him of death and heaven; she might name Donald, and
extract some promise from him. And he was determined now that nothing
should move him. So he pretended great weariness, drew a large chair
to her bedside, and said,

"I shall try and sleep a while, darling; if you need me you have only
to speak."


He was more weary than he knew, and ere he was aware he fell asleep - a
restless, wretched sleep, that made him glad when the half-oblivion
was over. Christine, however, was apparently at rest, and he soon
relapsed into the same dark, haunted state of unconsciousness.
Suddenly he began to mutter and moan, and then to speak with a hoarse,
whispered rapidity that had in it something frightful and unearthly.
But Christine listened with wide-open eyes, and heard with sickening
terror the whole wicked plot. It fell from his half-open lips over and
over in every detail; and over and over he laughed low and terribly at
the coming shame of the hated Donald.

She had not walked alone for weeks, nor indeed been out of her room
for months, but she must go now; and she never doubted her strength.
As if she had been a spirit, she slipped out of bed, walked rapidly
and noiselessly into the long-unfamiliar parlor. A rushlight was
burning, and the key of the old desk was always in it. Nothing
valuable was kept there, and people unacquainted with the secret of
the hidden drawer would have looked in vain for the entrance to it.
Christine had known it for years, but her wifely honor had held it
more sacred than locks or keys could have done. She was aware only
that James kept some private matter of importance there, and she would
as readily have robbed her husband's purse as have spied into things
of which he did not speak to her.

Now, however, all mere thoughts of courtesy or honor must yield before
the alternative in which James and Donald stood. She reached the desk,
drew out the concealing drawer, pushed aside the slide, and touched
the paper. There were other papers there, but something taught her at
once the right one. To take it and close the desk was but the work of
a moment, then back she flew as swiftly and noiselessly as a spirit
with the condemning evidence tightly clasped in her hand.

James was still muttering and moaning in his troubled sleep, and with
the consciousness of her success all her unnatural strength passed
away. She could hardly secrete it in her bosom ere she fell into a
semi-conscious lethargy, through which she heard with terror her
husband's low, weird laughter and whispered curses.

At length the day for the dinner came. James had procured an
invitation, and he made unusual personal preparations for it. He was
conscious that he was going to do a very mean action, but he would
look as well as possible in the act. He had even his apology for it
ready; he would say that "as long as it was a private wrong he had
borne the loss patiently for twenty years, but that the public welfare
demanded honest men, men above reproach, and he could no longer feel
it his duty," etc., etc.

After he was dressed he bid Christine "Good-by."

"He would only stay an hour," he said, "and he must needs go, as
Donald was her kin."

Then he went to the desk, and with hands trembling in their eagerness
sought the bill. It was not there. _Impossible!_ He looked
again - again more carefully - could not believe his eyes, and looked
again and again. It was really gone. If the visible hand of God had
struck him, he could not have felt it more consciously. He
mechanically closed the desk and sat down like one stunned. Cain might
have felt as James did when God asked him, "Where is thy brother?" He
did not think of prayer. No "God be merciful to me a sinner" came as
yet from his dry, white lips. The fountains of his heart seemed dry as
dust. The anger of God weighed him down till

"He felt as one
Who, waking after some strange, fevered dream,
Sees a dim land and things unspeakable,
And comes to know at last that it is hell."

Meantime Christine was lying with folded hands, praying for him. She
knew what an agony he was going through, and ceaselessly with pure
supplications she prayed for his forgiveness. About midnight one came
and told him his wife wanted to see him. He rose with a wretched sigh,
and looked at the clock. He had sat there six hours. He had thought
over everything, over and over - the certainty that the paper was
there, the fact that no other paper had been touched, and that no
human being but Christine knew of the secret place. These things
shocked him beyond expression. It was to his mind a visible assertion
of the divine prerogative; he had really heard God say to him,
"Vengeance is mine." The lesson that in these materialistic days we
would reason away, James humbly accepted. His religious feelings were,
after all, his deepest feelings, and in those six hours he had so
palpably felt the frown of his angry Heavenly Father that he had quite
forgotten his poor, puny wrath at Donald McFarlane.

As he slowly walked up stairs to Christine he determined to make to
her a full confession of the deed he had meditated. But when he
reached her bedside he saw that she was nearly dead. She smiled
faintly and said,

"Send all away, James. I must speak alone with you, dear; we are going
to part, my husband."

Then he knelt down by her side and held her cold hands, and the
gracious tears welled up in his hot eyes, and he covered them with the
blessed rain.

"O James, how you have suffered - since six o'clock."

"You know then, Christine! I would weep tears of blood over my sin. O
dear, dear wife, take no shameful memory of me into eternity with

"See how I trust you, James. Here is poor, weak Donald's note. I know
now you will never use it against him. What if your six hours were
lengthened out through life - through eternity? I ask no promise from
you now, dear."

"But I give it. Before God I give it, with all my heart. My sin has
found me out this night. How has God borne with me all these years?
Oh, how great is his mercy!"

Then Christine told him how he had revealed his wicked plot, and how
wonderful strength had been given her to defeat it; and the two souls,
amid their parting sighs and tears, knew each other as they had never
done through all their years of life.

For a week James remained in his own room. Then Christine was laid
beside her father, and the shop was reopened, and the household
returned to its ways. But James was not seen in house or shop, and the
neighbors said,

"Kirsty Cameron has had a wearisome sickness, and nae doobt her
gudeman was needing a rest. Dootless he has gane to the Hielands a

But it was not northward James Blackie went. It was south; south past
the bonnie Cumberland Hills and the great manufacturing towns of
Lancashire and the rich valleys of Yorkshire; southward until he
stopped at last in London. Even then, though he was weary and sick and
the night had fallen, he did not rest. He took a carriage and drove at
once to a fashionable mansion in Baker street. The servant looked
curiously at him and felt half inclined to be insolent to such a

"Take that card to your master at once," he said in a voice whose
authority could not be disputed, and the man went.

His master was lying on a sofa in a luxuriously-furnished room,
playing with a lovely girl about four years old, and listening
meanwhile to an enthusiastic account of a cricket match that two boys
of about twelve and fourteen years were giving him. He was a
strikingly handsome man, in the prime of life, with a thoroughly happy
expression. He took James' card in a careless fashion, listened to the
end of his sons' story, and then looked at it. Instantly his manner
changed; he stood up, and said promptly,

"Go away now, Miss Margaret, and you also, Angus and David; I have an
old friend to see." Then to the servant, "Bring the gentleman here at

When he heard James' step he went to meet him with open hand; but
James said,

"Not just yet, Mr. McFarlane; hear what I have to say. Then if you
offer your hand I will take it."

"Christine is dead?"

"Dead, dead."

They sat down opposite each other, and James did not spare himself.
From his discovery of the note in old Starkie's possession until the
death of Christine, he confessed everything. Donald sat with downcast
eyes, quite silent. Once or twice his fierce Highland blood surged
into his face, and his hand stole mechanically to the place where his
dirk had once been, but the motion was as transitory as a thought.
When James had finished he sat with compressed lips for a few moments,
quite unable to control his speech; but at length he slowly said,

"I wish I had known all this before; it would have saved much sin and
suffering. You said that my indifference at first angered you. I must
correct this. I was not indifferent. No one can tell what suffering
that one cowardly act cost me. But before the bill fell due I went
frankly to Uncle David and confessed all my sin. What passed between
us you may guess; but he forgave me freely and fully, as I trust God
did also. Hence there was no cause for its memory to darken life."

"I always thought Christine had told her father," muttered James.

"Nay, but I told him myself. He said he would trace the note, and I
have no doubt he knew it was in your keeping from the first."

Then James took it from his pocket-book.

"There it is, Mr. McFarlane. Christine gave it back to me the hour she
died. I promised her to bring it to you and tell you all."

"Christine's soul was a white rose without a thorn. I count it an
honor to have known and loved her. But the paper is yours, Mr.
Blackie, unless I may pay for it."

"O man, man! what money could pay for it? I would not dare to sell it
for the whole world! Take it, I pray you."

"I will not. Do as you wish with it, James, I can trust you."

Then James walked towards the table. There were wax lights burning on
it, and he held it in the flame and watched it slowly consume away to
ashes. The silence was so intense that they heard each other
breathing, and the expression on James' face was so rapt and noble
that even Donald's stately beauty was for the moment less attractive.
Then he walked towards Donald and said,

"Now give me your hand, McFarlane, and I'll take it gladly."

And that was a handclasp that meant to both men what no words could
have expressed.

"Farewell, McFarlane; our ways in this world lie far apart; but when
we come to die it will comfort both of us to remember this meeting.
God be with you!"

"And with you also, James. Farewell."

Then James went back to his store and his shadowed household life. And

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrScottish sketches → online text (page 7 of 15)