Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

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Why should I slay him ? He is so eager and
happy ;" and with the thought the gun was

The kind act put him into one of his best
moods; after it, he had no desire to kill the
birds around him. The cock grouse strutted
fearlessly with his mate within easy range, and
Donald was content to watch the bird s bright

Undercurrents. 59

crimson comb and rich, brown plumage, and to
smile at his lordly attentions to the plainer hen-
bird. The whirring creatures did not otherwise
stir him ; even the kick-ic-ic of a covey of grouse
put no tingle in his fingers. For a good soul
has infinite relationships with nature, full of
mystery in their beginnings, but leading it to
the glow of sacrifice and the ideality of love by
ways quite incomprehensible.

Donald s love made him a better man.
Thinking of Roberta, he was always astonished
to find himself capable of actions above the
usual standard of his life. Thus, in some way, it
was Roberta that saved the stag s life, and gave
the cock-grouse and his shy mate safety. He
was so happy in his love, and yet there appears
to be a divine necessity for joining joy and
sorrow together. As surely as we climb some
mount of happiness, we find that the way of sor
row lies parallel with it. Donald was so happy,
and yet he was anxious and unhappy ; for Sara s

60 Undercurrents.

words had only put into tangible form vague
suspicions familiar to his heart.

He perceived that great changes were to take
place at Tasmer ; he understood that any
change there must, in some way, re-act upon his
own life. He was curious, and yet uneasy,
about their visitors ; he had an idea that people
who were permitted to come in contact with
other existences had some message to deliver to
them, or some influence to exert upon them.
They were to be the touch of fate.

So musing, with Roberta Balfour always as an
underlying thought, he wandered until the
short winter day began to close. Without
being conscious of it, he had instinctively drawn
near to the ocean. Forever it called to his
soul as a mother calls to her child. In joy or
sorrow, in doubt or tremor of any kind, Donald
felt its mysterious attraction creep into his
blood, and he answered the voice that no one
but himself heard. To-night, it was tossing at
his feet, and echoing with sounds that said:

Undercurrents. 6 1

"Come! Come! Come!" plainly enough to

He turned reluctantly away from the tempta
tion ; catching in the gray light the gray sails of
the Sea Bird, and feeling an almost irresistible
longing to be in her snug cabin on the tide top.
The castle was all alight as he emerged from
the gloom of the firs ; and a great wood-fire
threw shifting lustres and shadows over arms
and antlers and thick modern rugs and heavy
furniture. In the silver wall-sconces there was
also a profusion of light, and Donald wondered,
as he went up the usually dim stairway, what
motive Sir Rolfe had in such extravagance.

It had the effect, however, of making him
particularly careful as to his own appearance,
and if any old thane of Ross could have seen the
slim, handsome youth in his broadcloth and fine
linen, he must have wondered greatly at his
descendant. He found Sara already in the
drawing-room, and looking exceedingly beauti
ful. Her dress of blue silk added some marvel-

62 Undercurrents.

cms charm to the dull glow of her hair and the
snow and rose of her complexion, and Donald
looked at her with a brotherly pride and

They were standing together on the hearth
rug, in a loving, confidential attitude, when Mr.
Maclane entered the room. He thought they
were the handsomest couple he had ever seen,
and he stood still a moment to please himself
with the living picture. Then Sara turned, and
holding Donald s hand, went forward a few steps
to meet him.

" This is my brother, Mr. Maclane my
brother Donald. And what kind of sport have
you had, sir ?"

" I am glad to see you, sir ; and as for sport,
Miss Torquil, I think the pleasures of sport are
very much overrated. I have been wading
through marshes, I have had my feet wet, and
shivered up and down hills, and worn myself
out with carrying a gun. I have killed three
fine cock grouse and a few hens, and I feel like a

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murderer. I only hope 1 shall not be asked to
eat my victims."

" That is not the usual way of describing a
day s shooting, sir," said Donald, smiling.

" No, I suppose it is not."

" Yet 1 have been in thorough sympathy with
you to-day. I took my gun to the hills, but I
could not make up my mind to destroy life
either. The innocent creatures were so happy.
If I had fired, I should have felt like an

" Come now, I like that and from a young
man, too ! I think we are going to be friends,

He spoke with an air of candor there was no
resisting, although he was not what is usually
called a handsome or fascinating man. Nature
had not carefully finished her work in Andrew
Maclane ; but he was cast in a noble mold, and
the difficulties and struggles of his life had given,
combined with intelligent and persevering cul
ture, an almost sculptural appearance to features

64 Undercurrents.

originally not fine. He spoke with the burr,
and something also of the homely patois of a
man born just south of the Solway, and it was
worth while hearing him speak to a fool accord
ing to his folly. He had been always engaged
in business, and he was now the hand to which
a thousand other hands were extended. And
yet he had ever found time for communion with
books ; indeed, hitherto, he had been fonder of
books than of men ; and had made his best
friends in the land of shadows, among images of
departed heroes and benefactors.

He was so honest, that Donald understood in
five minutes that he was in love with Sara; that
it was very likely his first love for woman, and
would just as likely be his last. He could not
conceal his admiration, although it was blent
with a humility which would probably be his
worst antagonist ; for what woman ever thought
better of a lover for his timidity ?

As they stood thus together, Sir Rolfe and
Lord Lenox entered. Sir Rolfe had a moment s

Undercurrents. 65

intense satisfaction in the fine appearance of
his children. " They are true Torquils," he
thought, and he cast a momentary glance at his
companion, as if to judge what effect so much
personal beauty had upon him.

But Lord Lenox was not a man easy to read.
He did not permit his countenance to index his
emotions, and its general expression was of that
complex character which is the natural result of
complex civilization. He was the young man of
his generation, who had been everywhere, and
who could do everything selfish, ambitious,
but withal notably good-looking, and possessed
of that air of distinction only given by inter
course with men on the highest social peaks.
Lenox, moreover, was a genuine sportsman.
He could imagine no greater pleasure than fol
lowing grouse through the heather or waiting
for a red stag on the misty mountain tops or
putting a fine grilse through its facings, with
fifty yards of line.

Maclane was a different man. The love of

66 Undercurrents.

the chase inherent in all had in his case been
directed toward wealth, power and position.
He had neither the natural aptitude nor the
physical stay necessary for a recreation that
was indeed repugnant to him in other respects.
With far greater zest, he turned with Donald to
the sea and the boats.

" If I am to get wet and be untidy, I would
rather be wet with fresh salt water than with
black moss water," he said, "and I like the
swing of the boat far better than tramping about
steep hillsides. And then, Donald, there is no
necessity to kill anything at sea. It would not
be sport * to shoot that diver in motley, and her
red-breasted swain, or even to bag that ugly,
greedy-looking cormorant flapping his dark
vans and protruding his long bare neck.
Would it ?"

When Maclane made this remark they were
on the Sea Bird, sailing easily before the wind.
The mysteries of the northern night were
gathering around them, pale-sailed ships vanish-

Undercurrents. 67

ing like phantoms beyond the horizon, and along
the restless sea shadows everywhere fighting
the cold lights falling from moon and stars to
pierce and scatter them. The eerie sense of the
lonely, ancient ocean, soon grew predominant.
The present life became faint ; they began to
talk solemnly of things beyond it. And it is
such subjects that unlock the hearts of men, and
make them free of each other s best nature ; for
very few are as irreligious as they appear to be.

Donald was touched by confidence so freely
given him by a man many years his senior, and
who had proved his manhood by conquering
poverty and ignorance and taking his place
among the nobles and law-givers of his age. In
return, he felt that he must be equally frank, but
there was nothing in his young life that
appeared worth talking about but Roberta

" My days had been spent in study and play,"
he said, " until I met her. She discovered my

68 Undercurrents.

soul to me. It is only about two months old, I

"Do you think that? Oh, no, Donald! If
you have really thought on that subject, you
must feel that your soul is older than any reck
oning. It had no age when it was incarnated.
It will have no age when it shall free itself from
your mortal vesture. It will not grow old in
eternity. But let us sail as far as Ellerloch. I
would like to see this girl you love so dearly.
Is she handsome?"

" I think so ; but when one discovers the soul,
the body is not much. It is Roberta I love, and
yet I am not indifferent to the sweetness of her
voice, the charm of her bright face, and the
grace of all her motions. Oh, no J Altogether
she is perfect. You will agree with me, I am

"And her father?"

Donald s face fell a little.

" He is a good man, I believe that ; but he is
quiet and grave, and, I think, a little stern ; more

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so lately than when I first knew him. 1 am sure
that he understands that I love Roberta."

" You ought to speak to him, Donald. Set
your love in a clear atmosphere the sanction of
earth and heaven that is what it asks, and
ought to have."

" Yes, but I am afraid to speak. Did I tell
you that Mr. Balfour was a Protestant minister
a Free-Kirk minister ?"

"No. A Free-Kirk minister and a Scotch
Lowlander. Oh, Donald, I think that will com
plicate matters very much. I know the type :
ruggedly conscientious and immovable as the
Bass Rock about a principle. Balfour is a name
among their worthies. Possibly he is of Cove
nanting stock ; and if so, he looks upon the
Shorter Catechism as the pillar of immortal
salvation and the Magna Charta of Scotland s
safety and prosperity. Does he know that you
are a Roman Catholic ?"

" I am not sure. I have not told him, and he
is only a stranger in Ross. Four years ago he

70 Undercurrents.

came from Galloway. In his own rough boun
daries, among the shepherds and fishers, he is
almost worshiped. He is a better sailor than
many of them ; he is a good fisher ; he is a
learned scholar. Roberta says he is an eloquent
preacher. I never heard him, but I know that
he is a good pastor and no mean physician. His
people rely on him for help in all their sickness
and in all their sorrow."

^ f He is a wonderful man, Donald. What is he
doing in an obscure Highland parish?"

" Oh, indeed ! Maclane, it is the obscure
parishes that need the wonderful men. Look at
Father Contach ! He ought to be a bishop, and
he is content to be a priest of Torquil. Don t
you think that a poor country priest fighting
against the devil in his parish has a nobler and a
harder fight than Alexander had?"

" No one can gainsay you, Donald. But it is
the part of honor as well as of duty and pru
dence to speak plainly to Mr. Balfour. Roberta

Under cu r rents . 7 1

is his only child ; if he loves her he will surely
sacrifice his prejudices to make her happy."

" She is very dear to him. Will you really go
as far as Ellerloch and see him ? You could say
much for me that I cannot say for myself. Then,
when you have prepared the way, I, also, will

The proposal was not unpleasant to Maclane.
He was happy at sea. He liked Donald s
society ; and he was glad of an opportunity to
bind the young man to him by some such ser
vice. For his own heart was set upon Sara Tor-
quil, and he was accustomed to compass all his
desires by careful attehtiojn to every favorable

The weather was not unpleasant. There was
a young moon riding cold and still beyond the
shifting clouds, and there was a bright starlight.
In the gray glimmer they sat and talked, while
the Sea Bird kept gallantly on her northern
course. Just when there was a streak of lemon
in the east, Donald sighted the low, gray manse

72 Undercurrents.

at Ellerloch. Maclane was asleep ; but the
lover s heart and longing had kept him awake.

Simple as Mr. Balfour s life was, it was
scarcely possible to call upon him before break
fast; and, indeed, Donald hoped he would see
the boat, and come to the pier and ask them to
take the meal with him. He had frequently
done so in the beginning of their friendship ;
and, although lately the kindness had been gen
erally omitted, Donald never could get over
the hope of its renewal.

Balfour saw the boat. Its fluttering flag was
the first thing that met his eyes when he rose.
The sight was evidently not one that gave the
minister pleasure. His strong, rugged face
grew as hard as if it were carved out of granite.
But a great nicety about his raiment was one of
David Balfour s characteristics, and this morn
ing he did not neglect it. He brushed every
speck of dust from his decent black coat, and
threw aside one set of lawn neckbands because
they fell short of the immaculate whiteness he

Undercurrents. 73

demanded. But it was pride in office, rather
than personal pride which made him so exacting.
He was a servant of the King of Kings, and he
felt that it behooved him to be pure in person as
in heart. Yet he was much disturbed as he pro
ceeded with his toilet. His lips parted continu
ally in short ejaculations, regrets, resolves and
quotations from The Book.

" I have always heard that to save a stranger
from the sea was to bring calamity on one s own
house. It s like it ! What for did I go to the
help of yonder youth ? He was neither kith nor
kin of mine. Think shame of yourself, David
Balfour ! A man in trouble is more than kith or
kin. If I have done foolishly, God save me
from the harvest of my folly. My trust is in the
Hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in all times
of trouble what for am I thinking of trouble ?
A young man s fancy and a young girl s dream ;
that is all of the argument. But it is time it was
settled, and "I ll settle it this very day, and then

74 Undercurrents.

I ll have neither word nor wittens of the matter

To such musings he deliberately dressed him
self, neither omitting nor hurrying any of his
usual duties. When he entered the parlor, his
heart felt that sudden glow of pious gratitude
which every one experiences more or less in the
actual presence of pleasant and comfortable sur
roundings. The fire was a picture in itself. It
was in an old-fashioned basket-grate, glowing
and blazing and crackling high up above a
hearth-stone pipe-clayed white as snow. The
brass fender and irons, the bright rug, the round
table so prettily laid, the delicious smell of
broiled salmon and hot cakes and good coffee
the general air of comfort arid refinement, filled
his soul with a sweet and gracious gratitude.
The household Bible lay open upon its stand
near his own chair. He went straight to it, and
put his hand upon it, and said, softly :

" Bless the Lord, oh, my soul ; and all that is
within me, bless His holy Name !"

Undercurrents. 75

He was reciting the thanksgiving psalm when
Roberta entered the room. Hearing her foot
step he finished it, and then turned to meet her.
Never had her beauty struck him so forcibly ;
perhaps it was at this moment that he first real
ized how beautiful she was. Evidently she, also,
had seen the Sea Bird. She had put on her best
dress, a dark-blue cloth one, with a plajn, ample
skirt, a tightly-fitting bodice, and narrow bands
of white linen at the throat and wrists. She
needed no ornaments ; gold bracelets and
brooches and rings would have been " barbaric
gold " on such an incarnation of vital beauty.
She had the dew of her youth, the glow of the
fresh, salt air, a color that no words can describe,
an air of happiness, of freedom, ot grace, that
imparted itself like an atmosphere to the room
as soon as she stood within it.

" Good-morning, father. Here is the Sea Bird

" I have seen it, Roberta."

" Are you not glad, father ?"

76 Undercurrents.

" You will be able to take care of yourself
with that young man, Roberta ? It is little we
know of him ; and I am not caring to know

" Father !"

" One will require to act judiciously, Roberta,
with a person coming north with every wind
that blows. He ll be having a reason, and when
a guest comes with a reason, there will be two
sides to it, and we must watch for our own side.
That is only prudent and right, Roberta."

" You have been having bad dreams, father, or
you have a touch of rheumatism, or there has
been an evil spirit in your sleeping-room whis
pering bad, suspicious thoughts in your ear
while you were sleeping. I never heard a more
unkind observation from you."

" Answer me this answer me this, Roberta :
Whom does young Torquil come here to see?
Is it I, or is it you ?"

" How can I tell ?"

" Let us have no prevarication. It you were

Undercurrents. 77

not here, do you think the Sea Bird would
come to Ellerlock again? Tell me the truth,

"She might not come so often."

" She would not come at all."

" I think Donald does like me."

" You know well he likes you. Why think or
suppose about the thing you are sure of? Very
well or very ill, more likely why does he
not speak to me, as an honest man should, and
say : I want to marry your daughter, sir ; and
I have thus and so, to warrant my offer ? Why
does he not tell me who and what he is? If
he wants to marry you, that is the way an
honest man would do it."

" Father, people do not bargain about wives,
as they used to do. Money questions are not to
be mixed up with love."

" You are very much mistaken, Roberta.
What do you know about love and marriage ?
Money questions, in one shape or other, are at
the foundation of marriage. An honest lover

7& Undercurrents.

lays this foundation with the father before he
talks love with the daughter. If the founda
tion is solid, you may build upon it all the
air-castles you fancy. I am not pleased at
Donald Torquil s ways. I ll say that plump and
plain. And he will have to mend them if he
would keep his welcome warm."

" Do you not think that fathers can be too
cautious ? Age and experience may not know
everything. I speak respectfully, father."

" Whoever said that age and experience knew
everything ? You will allow, though, that it is
very likely fifty-five years may know more
than eighteen years ?"

" Father, we have not had a nice breakfast,
and it is your fault ; I was so happy when I saw
the Sea Bird. After the exercise do go and
meet Donald. If you have had a temptation in
the night, give it the back of your hand behind
you. Donald is a good young man ; good and
true. Go and meet him kindly. It is beginning

Undercurrents. 79

to rain, and we may have a storm. You cannot
shut your door against him, father."

" Well, well ! I see, Roberta, that you have
arled your heart to him ; but you ll mind this :
If I find out that he is not a good youth, if he is
not fit to be your husband, I will not allow him
to speak another word to you. That is as fact
as death. I ll no need to say it again."

Then he arose and called in his household,
and read the appointed portion, and sang the
proper psalm, and prayed with an unfaltering
faith and fervor. His eyes were shining and
moist when he rose from his knees, and he
spoke kindly to Roberta, as he put on his
plaid and hat, and went down to the sea

The clouds had fallen low, and were beating
themselves against the earth in those whiffs of
sharp rain so common on the west coast ; and
Roberta knew the cabin of the Sea Bird would
be damp and uncomfortable. " Then father will
be sorry for Donald," she thought, " and he will

8o Undercurrents.

bring him here ; and I know that I may expect
them in half an hour at any rate."

In much less time she saw them coming, and
perceived also with some curiosity that they
were accompanied by a stranger. " He looks
far older than Donald ; perhaps he is Donald s
father ;" and she put more fuel on the fire, and
flecked the last speck of dust from the hearth,
and ran up-stairs to see if her own hair and collar
were in perfect order. By that time, the three
gentlemen were in the small hall, and she went
to meet them with the flush and light of welcome
on her face.

Greatly to her surprise and pleasure, she per
ceived that her father had some knowledge ol
Mr. Maclane. They had become friends at once,
and were soon so deeply interested in their own
conversation that Donald easily slipped away
trom them to Roberta, who was in a small, light
pantry making the pastry for the day s dinner.

" Father appears delighted to meet your
friend, Donald. Are they old acquaintances?"

Undercurrents. 81

" Politically so. Maclane, who is a Member
of Parliament, wrote a pamphlet in favor of the
Scotch church, when she was in the thick of her
late fight with the government ; a very clever
pamphlet, indeed, Mr. Balfour thinks. Fancy
Maclane writing a pamphlet, or bothering him
self about church government, with all else he
has to do !"

" Indeed, Donald, church government is a
very important affair. Father gave up one of
the finest livings in Scotland on that very ques
tion. There is in it all the majesty of the Free
Kirk, as somebody said. I hear they have gone
into the study, and if father begins to introduce
his friends, it may take them all day to get

" Especially as Maclane is a great book-lover
also. Oh, Roberta, what a happy day we are
going to have !"

For once fate was kind to all. Mr. Balfour
and Mr. Maclane were in perfect harmony. As
iron sharpeneth iron, their minds caught light

82 Undercurrents.

and brilliancy from contact. Book after book
was taken from the wealthy shelves and com
mented upon, and though, in the main, their
opinions were at one, there were still differences
sufficient to give their conversation a brisk and
piquant individuality.

Such intellectual contact was a rare mental
treat to Mr. Balfour, and he gave himself up
entirely to its enjoyment ; yet, amid all, he had
a constant sense of his responsibility regarding
Donald Torquil and his daughter. But if it had
been difficult to speak hitherto, it was doubly so
this day. Before a stranger whom he honored,
he could scarcely introduce a subject so per
sonal, and one which, perhaps, would have to
terminate in an entire withdrawal of his courtesy
and friendship from Donald. Such hours of
mental refreshment came to him so rarely, he
could not bear to mar their harmony, and he
resolved to suffer the relationship of the young
people to go unchallenged during this visit.

But no man may put back the hour of fate ;

Undercurrents. 83

and the knowledge which he had both desired
and dreaded was given him in the most uncon
scious manner. It was not, however, until the
visit was nearly over, and every one of the party
had appreciated the enjoyment of thirty hours
of such serene and innocent pleasure as rarely
comes to mortals. Balfour and Mr. Maclane
had expressed their different views on all their
favorite topics, and Donald and Roberta had
assured themselves, in many a sweet way, how
unanimous their opinions were on the one only
topic that filled their hearts. They had all
enjoyed Roberta s excellent cooking, they had
sung some old songs together, and together felt
the calm of the evening exercise ; and by thus
mingling the joys of sense and soul, had tasted
the purest cup of happiness.

Sweet sleep and a calm breakfast followed the
pleasant day, and about ten o clock they rose to
depart. The sky was clear, the wind at their
back, and the sea had been beaten smooth by
the heavy rain.

84 Undercurrents.

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe beads of Tasmer → online text (page 3 of 16)