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went round with his pipes, arousing attention by a brief blast, and
then crying the loss at every corner. As soon as Malcolm heard of
it, he hurried to find Joseph, but the only explanation of their
absence he was prepared to suggest was one that had already occurred
to almost everybody - that the laird, namely, had been captured
by the emissaries of his mother, and that, to provide against
a rescue, they had carried off his companion with him - on which
supposition, there was every probability that, within a few days
at farthest, Phemy would be restored unhurt.

"There can be little doobt they hae gotten a grip o' 'm at last,
puir fallow!" said Joseph. "But whatever 's come till him, we
canna sit doon an' ait oor mait ohn kent hoo Phemy 's farin, puir
wee lamb! Ye maun jist haud awa' ower to Kirkbyres, Ma'colm, an'
get word o' yer mither, an' see gien onything can be made oot o'

The proposal fell on Malcolm like a great billow.

"Blue Peter," he said, looking him in the face, "I took it as a
mark o' yer freen'ship 'at ye never spak the word to me. What richt
has ony man to ca' that wuman my mither? I hae never allooed it!"

"I 'm thinkin'," returned Joseph, the more easily nettled that
his horizon also was full of trouble, "your word upo' the maitter
winna gang sae far 's John o' Groat's. Ye 'll no be suppeent for
your witness upo' the pint."

"I wad as sune gang a mile intill the mou' o' hell, as gang to
Kirkbyres!" said Malcolm.

"I hae my answer," said Peter, and turned away.

"But I s' gang," Malcolm went on. "The thing 'at maun be can be.
- Only I tell ye this, Peter," he added, "gien ever ye say sic a
word 's yon i' my hearin' again, that is, afore the wuman has priven
hersel' what she says, I s' gang by ye ever efter ohn spoken, for
I'll ken ''at ye want nae mair o' me."

Joseph, who had been standing with his back to his friend, turned
and held out his hand. Malcolm took it.

"Ae question afore I gang, Peter," he said. "What for didna ye tell
me what fowk was sayin' aboot me - anent Lizzy Findlay?"

"'Cause I didna believe a word o' 't, an' I wasna gaein' to add to
yer troubles."

"Lizzy never mootit sic a thing?"


"I was sure o' that! - Noo I 'll awa' to Kirkbyres - God help
me! I wad raither face Sawtan an' his muckle tyke. - But dinna ye
expec' ony news. Gien yon ane kens, she's a' the surer no to tell.
Only ye sanna say I didna du my best for ye."

It was the hardest trial of the will Malcolm had yet had to
encounter. Trials of submission he had had, and tolerably severe
ones: but to go and do what the whole feeling recoils from is to be
weighed only against abstinence from what the whole feeling urges
towards. He walked determinedly home. Stoat saddled a horse for him
while he changed his dress, and once more he set out for Kirkbyres.

Had Malcolm been at the time capable of attempting an analysis
of his feeling towards Mrs Stewart, he would have found it very
difficult to effect. Satisfied as he was of the untruthful - even
cruel nature of the woman who claimed him, and conscious of a strong
repugnance to any nearer approach between them, he was yet aware
of a certain indescribable fascination in her. This, however, only
caused him to recoil from her the more - partly from dread lest it
might spring from the relation asserted, and partly that, whatever
might be its root, it wrought upon him in a manner he scarcely
disliked the less that it certainly had nothing to do with the
filial. But his feelings were too many and too active to admit of
the analysis of any one of them, and ere he reached the house his
mood had grown fierce.

He was shown into a room where the fire had not been many minutes
lighted. It had long narrow windows, over which the ivy had grown
so thick, that he was in it some moments ere he saw through the
dusk that it was a library - not half the size of that at Lossie
House, but far more ancient, and, although evidently neglected,
more study-like.

A few minutes passed, then the door softly opened, and Mrs Stewart
glided swiftly across the floor with outstretched arms.

"At last!" she said, and would have clasped him to her bosom.

But Malcolm stepped back.

"Na, na, mem!" he said; "it taks twa to that!"

"Malcolm!" she exclaimed, her voice trembling with emotion - of
some kind.

"Ye may ca' me your son, mem, but I ken nae gr'un' yet for ca'in'
you my - "

He could not say the word.

"That is very true, Malcolm," she returned gently; "but this
interview is not of my seeking. I wish to precipitate nothing. So
long as there is a single link, or half a link even, missing from
the chain of which one end hangs at my heart - "

She paused, with her hand on her bosom, apparently to suppress
rising emotion. Had she had the sentence ready for use?

"I will not subject myself," she went on, "to such treatment as
it seems I must look for from you. It is hard to lose a son but it
is harder yet to find him again after he has utterly ceased to be

Here she put her handkerchief to her eyes.

"Till the matter is settled, however," she resumed, "let us be
friends - or at least not enemies. - What did you come for now?
Not to insult me surely. Is there anything I can do for you?"

Malcolm felt the dignity of her behaviour, but not the less, after
his own straightforward manner, answered her question to the point.

"I cam aboot naething concernin' mysel', mem, I cam to see whether
ye kent onything aboot Phemy Mair."

"Is it a wo? - I don't even know who she is. - You don't mean
the young woman that - ? - Why do you come to me about her? Who
is she?"

Malcolm hesitated a moment: if she really did not know what he
meant, was there any risk in telling her? But he saw none.

"Wha is she, mem!" he returned. "I whiles think she maun be the
laird's guid angel, though in shape she's but a wee bit lassie.
She maks up for a heap to the laird. - Him an' her, mem, they 've
disappeart thegither, naebody kens whaur."

Mrs Stewart laughed a low unpleasant laugh, but made no other reply.
Malcolm went on.

"An' it's no to be wonnert at gien fowk wull hae 't 'at ye maun
ken something aboot it, mem."

"I know nothing whatever," she returned emphatically. "Believe
me or not, as you please," she added, with heightened colour. "If
I did know anything," she went on, with apparent truthfulness, "I
don't know that I should feel bound to tell it. As it is, however,
I can only say I know nothing of either of them. That I do say most

Malcolm turned, - satisfied at least that he could learn no more.

"You are not going to leave me so!" the lady said, and her face
grew "sad as sad could be."

"There's naething mair atween 's, mem," answered Malcolm, without
turning even his face.

"You will be sorry for treating me so some day."

"Weel than, mem, I will be; but that day's no the day (today)."

"Think what you could do for your poor witless brother, if - "

"Mem," interrupted Malcolm, turning right round and drawing himself
up in anger, "priv' 'at I 'm your son, an' that meenute I speir at
you wha was my father."

Mrs Stewart changed colour - neither with the blush of innocence
nor with the pallor of guilt, but with the gray of mingled rage and
hatred. She took a step forward with the quick movement of a snake
about to strike, but stopped midway, and stood looking at him with
glittering eyes, teeth clenched, and lips half open.

Malcolm returned her gaze for a moment or two.

"Ye never was the mither, whaever was the father o' me!" he said,
and walked out of the room.

He had scarcely reached the door, when he heard a heavy fall, and
looking round saw the lady lying motionless on the floor. Thoroughly
on his guard, however, and fearful both of her hatred and her
blandishments, he only made the more haste down stairs, where he
found a maid, and sent her to attend to her mistress. In a minute
he was mounted and trotting fast home, considerably happier than
before, inasmuch as he was now almost beyond doubt convinced that
Mrs Stewart was not his mother.


Ever since the visit of condolence with which the narrative of
these events opened, there had been a coolness between Mrs Mellis
and Miss Horn. Mr Mellis's shop was directly opposite Miss Horn's
house, and his wife's parlour was over the shop, looking into
the street; hence the two neighbours could not but see each other
pretty often; beyond a stiff nod, however, no sign of smouldering
friendship had as yet broken out. Miss Horn was consequently a good
deal surprised when, having gone into the shop to buy some trifle,
Mr Mellis informed her, in all but a whisper, that his wife was
very anxious to see her alone for a moment, and begged her to have
the goodness to step up to the parlour. His customer gave a small
snort, betraying her first impulse to resentment, but her nobler
nature, which was never far from the surface, constrained her

Mrs Mellis rose hurriedly when the plumb line figure of her
neighbour appeared, ushered in by her husband, and received her with
a somewhat embarrassed empressement, arising from the consciousness
of goodwill disturbed by the fear of imputed meddlesomeness. She
knew the inward justice of Miss Horn, however, and relied upon that,
even while she encouraged herself by waking up the ever present
conviction of her own superiority in the petite morale of social
intercourse. Her general tendency indeed was to look down upon Miss
Horn: is it not usually the less that looks down on the greater?
I had almost said it must be, for that the less only can look down
but that would not hold absolutely in the kingdoms of this world,
while in the kingdom of heaven it is all looking up.

"Sit ye doon, Miss Horn," she said; "it 's a lang time sin we had
a news thegither."

Miss Horn seated herself with a begrudged acquiescence.

Had Mrs Mellis been more of a tactician, she would have dug a few
approaches ere she opened fire upon the fortress of her companion's
fair hearing: but instead of that, she at once discharged the
imprudent question - "Was ye at hame last nicht, mem, atween the
hoors o' aucht an' nine?" - a shot which instantly awoke in reply
the whole battery of Miss Horn's indignation.

"Wha am I, to be speirt sic a queston! Wha but yersel' wad hae
daurt it, Mistress Mellis?"

"Huly (softly), huly, Miss Horn!" expostulated her questioner. "I
hae nae wuss to pry intill ony secrets o' yours, or - "

"Secrets!" shouted Miss Horn!

But her consciousness of good intent, and all but assurance of
final victory, upheld Mrs Mellis.

" - or Jean's aither," she went on, apparently regardless; "but I
wad fain be sure ye kent a' aboot yer ain hoose 'at a body micht
chance to see frae the croon o' the caus'ay (middle of the street)."

"The parlour blind 's gane up crookit sin' ever that thoomb fingert
cratur, Watty Witherspail, made a new roller till 't. Gien 't be
that ye mean, Mistress Mellis, - "

"Hoots!" returned the other. " - Hoo far can ye lippen to that Jean
o' yours, mem?"

"Nae farer nor the len'th o' my nose, an' the breid o' my twa een,"
was the scornful answer.

Although, however, she thus manifested her resentment of Mrs Mellis's
catechetical attempts in introducing her subject, Miss Horn had no
desire to prevent the free outcome of her approaching communication.

"In that case, I may speyk oot," said Mrs Mellis.

"Use yer freedom."

"Weel, I will. Ye was hardly oot o' the hoose last nicht, afore
- "

"Ye saw me gang oot?"

"Ay did I."

"What gart ye speir than? What for sud a body come screwin' up a
straucht stair - noo the face an' noo the back o' her?"

"Weel, I nott (needed) na hae speirt. But that's naething to the
p'int. - Ye hadna been gane, as I was saying', ower a five meenutes,
whan in cam a licht intill the bedroom neist the parlour, an' Jean
appeart wi' a can'le in her han'. There was nae licht i' this room
but the licht o' the fire, an' no muckle o' that, for 'twas maistly
peat, sae I saw her weel eneuch-ohn been seen mysel'. She cam
straucht to the window, and drew doon the blind, but lost hersel'
a bit or she wad never hae set doon her can'le whaur it cuist a
shaidow o' hersel' an' her doin's upo' the blind."

"An' what was 't she was efter, the jaud?" cried Miss Horn, without
any attempt to conceal her growing interest.

"She made naething o' 't, whatever it was; for doon the street cam
the schuilmaister, an' chappit at the door, an gaed in an' waitit
till ye came hame."

"Weel!" said Miss Horn.

But Mrs Mellis held her peace.

"Weel!!?" repeated Miss Horn.

"Weel," returned Mrs Mellis, with a curious mixture of deference
and conscious sagacity in her tone, "a' 'at I tak upo' me to say
is - Think ye twice afore ye lippen to that Jean o' yours."

"I lippen naething till her! I wad as sune lippen to the dottle o'
a pipe amo' dry strae. What saw ye, Mistress Mellis?"

"Ye needna speyk like that," returned Mrs Mellis, for Miss Horn's
tone was threatening: "I'm no Jean."

"What saw ye?" repeated Miss Horn, more gently, but not less eagerly.

"Whause is that kist o' mahogany drawers i' that bedroom, gien I
may preshume ta spier?"

"Whause but mine?"

"They're no Jean's?"


"Ye micht hae latten her keep her bit duds i' them, for onything
I kent!"

"Jean's duds i' my Grizel's drawers! A lik'ly thing!"

"Hm! They war puir Miss Cam'ell's, war they?"

"They war Grizell Cam'ell's drawers as lang she had use for ony;
but what for ye sud say puir till her, I dinna ken, 'cep' it be
'at she's gane whaur they haena muckle 'at needs layin' in drawers.
That's neither here nor there. - Div ye tell me 'at Jean was
intromittin' wi thae drawers? They're a' lockit, ilk ane o' them
- an' they're guid locks."

"No ower guid to hae keyes to them - are they?"

"The keyes are i' my pooch," said Miss Horn, clapping her hand to
the skirt of her dress. "They're aye i' my pooch, though I haena
had the feelin's to mak use o' them sin' she left me."

"Are ye sure they war there last nicht, mem?"

Miss Horn seemed struck.

"I had on my black silk last nicht." she answered vaguely, and was
here silent, pondering doubtfully.

"Weel, mem, jist ye put on yer black silk again the morn's nicht,
an' come ower aboot aucht o'clock; an' ye'll be able to jeedge by
her ongang whan ye're no i' the hoose, gien there be onything amiss
wi' Jean. There canna be muckle ill dune yet - that's a comfort!"

"What ill, by (beyond) meddlin' wi' what doesna concern her, cud
the wuman du?" said Miss Horn, with attempted confidence.

"That ye sud ken best yersel', mem. But Jean's an awfu' gossip,
an' a lady like yer cousin micht hae left dockiments ahint her 'at
she wadna jist like to hear procleemt frae the hoose tap. No 'at
she 'll ever hear onything mair, puir thing!"

"What mean ye?" cried Miss Horn, half frightened, half angry.

"Jist what I say - neither mair nor less," returned Mrs Mellis.
"Miss Cam'ell may weel hae left letters for enstance, an' hoo wad
they fare in Jean's han's?"

"Whan I never had the hert to open her drawers!" exclaimed Miss
Horn, enraged at the very notion of the crime. "I hae nae feelin's,
thank God for the furnishin' o' me!"

"I doobt Jean has her full share o' a' feelin's belangin' to fallen
human natur'," said Mrs Mellis, with a slow horizontal oscillation
of the head. "But ye jist come an' see wi' yer ain een, an' syne
jeedge for yersel': it 's nae business o' mine."

"I'll come the nicht, Mrs Mellis. Only lat it be atween 's twa."

"I can haud my tongue, mem, - that is, frae a' but ane. Sae lang
's merried fowk sleeps in ae bed, it 's ill to haud onything till
a body's sel'."

"Mr Mellis is a douce man, an' I carena what he kens." answered
Miss Horn.

She descended to the shop, and having bought bulk enough to account
to Jean for her lengthened stay, for she had beyond a doubt been
watching the door of the shop, she crossed the street, went up to
her parlour, and rang the bell. The same moment Jean's head was
popped in at the door: she had her reasons for always answering
the bell like a bullet.

"Mem?" said Jean.

"Jean, I'm gaein' oot the nicht. The minister oucht to be spoken
till aboot the schuilmaister, honest man. Tak the lantren wi' ye
to the manse aboot ten o'clock. That 'll be time eneuch."

"Verra weel, mem. But I'm thinkin' there's a mune the nicht."

"Naething but the doup o' ane, Jean. It 's no to ca' a mune. It's
a mercy we hae lantrens, an' sic a sicht o' cairds (gipsies) aboot."

"Ay, lantren lats them see whaur ye are, an' haud oot o' yer gait,"
said Jean, who happened not to relish going out that night.

"Troth, wuman, ye 're richt there!" returned her mistress, with
cheerful assent. "The mair they see o' ye, the less they 'll meddle
wi' ye - caird or cadger. Haud ye the licht upo' yer ain face,
lass, an' there 's feow 'll hae the hert to luik again."

"Haith, mem, there's twa sic like o' 's!" returned Jean bitterly,
and bounced from the room.

"That's true tu," said her mistress - adding after the door was
shut, "It's a peety we cudna haud on thegither."

"I'm gaein' noo, Jean," she called into the kitchen as she crossed
the threshold at eight o'clock.

She turned towards the head of the street, in the direction of the
manse; but, out of the range of Jean's vision, made a circuit, and
entered Mr Mellis's house by the garden at the back.

In the parlour she found a supper prepared to celebrate the renewal
of old goodwill. The clear crystal on the table; the new loaf so
brown without and so white within; the rich, clear complexioned
butter, undebased with a particle of salt; the self satisfied hum
of the kettle in attendance for the guidman's toddy; the bright
fire, the golden glow of the brass fender in its red light, and the
dish of boiled potatoes set down before it, under a snowy cloth;
the pink eggs, the yellow haddock, and the crimson strawberry jam;
all combined their influences - each with its private pleasure
wondrously heightened by the zest of a secret watch and the hope
of discomfitted mischief - to draw into a friendship what had
hitherto been but a somewhat insecure neighbourship. From below
came the sound of the shutters which Mr Mellis was putting up a
few minutes earlier than usual; and when presently they sat down
to the table, and, after prologue judged suitable, proceeded to
enjoy the good things before them, an outside observer would have
thought they had a pleasant evening, if not Time himself, by the

But Miss Horn was uneasy. The thought of what Jean might have
already discovered had haunted her all day long; for her reluctance
to open her cousin's drawers had arisen mainly from the dread of
finding justified a certain painful suspicion which had haunted
the whole of her intercourse with Grizell Campbell - namely, that
the worm of a secret had been lying at the root of her life, the
cause of all her illness, and of her death at last. She had fought
with, out argued, and banished the suspicion a thousand times while
she was with her, but evermore it had returned; and now since her
death, when again and again on the point of turning over her things,
she had been always deterred by the fear, not so much of finding
what would pain herself as of discovering what Grizell would not
wish her to know. Never was there a greater contrast between form
and reality, between person and being, between manner and nature,
than existed in Margaret Horn: the shell was rough, the kernel
absolute delicacy. Not for a moment had her suspicion altered her
behaviour to the gentle suffering creature towards whom she had
adopted the relation of an elder and stronger sister. To herself,
when most satisfied of the existence of a secret, she steadily
excused her cousin's withholdment of confidence, on the ground of
her own lack of feelings: how could she unbosom herself to such as
she! And now the thought of eyes like Jean's exploring Grizell's
forsaken treasures, made her so indignant and restless that she
could hardly even pretend to enjoy her friend's hospitality.

Mrs Mellis had so arranged the table and their places, that she and
her guest had only to lift their eyes to see the window of their
watch, while she punished her husband for the virile claim to greater
freedom from curiosity by seating him with his back to it, which
made him every now and then cast a fidgety look over his shoulder
- not greatly to the detriment of his supper, however. Their plan
was, to extinguish their own the moment Jean's light should appear,
and so watch without the risk of counter discovery.

"There she comes!" cried Mrs Mellis; and her husband and Miss Horn
made such haste to blow out the candle, that they knocked their
heads together, blew in each other's face, and the first time missed
it. Jean approached the window with hers in her hand, and pulled
down the blind. But, alas, beyond the form of a close bent elbow
moving now and then across a corner of the white field, no shadow
appeared upon it!

Miss Horn rose.

"Sit doon, mem, sit doon; ye hae naething to gang upo' yet,"
exclaimed Mr Mellis, who, being a bailie, was an authority.

"I can sit nae langer, Mr Mellis," returned Miss Horn. "I hae
eneuch to gang upo' as lang 's I hae my ain flure aneth my feet:
the wuman has nae business there. I'll jist slip across an' gang
in, as quaiet as a sowl intill a boady; but I s' warran' I s' mak
a din afore I come oot again!"

With a grim diagonal nod she left the room.

Although it was now quite dark, she yet deemed it prudent to go by
the garden gate into the back lane, and so cross the street lower
down. Opening her own door noiselessly, thanks to Jean, who kept
the lock well oiled for reasons of Mrs Catanach's, she closed it
as silently, and, long boned as she was, crept up the stair like
a cat. The light was shining from the room; the door was ajar. She
listened at it for a moment, and could distinguish nothing; then
fancying she heard the rustle of paper, could bear it no longer,
pushed the door open, and entered. There stood Jean, staring at
her with fear blanched face, a deep top drawer open before her,
and her hands full of things she was in the act of replacing. Her
terror culminated, and its spell broke in a shriek, when her mistress
sprang upon her like a tigress.

The watchers in the opposite house heard no cry, and only saw
a heave of two intermingled black shadows across the blind, after
which they neither heard nor saw anything more. The light went on
burning until its final struggle with the darkness began, when it
died with many a flickering throb. Unable at last to endure the
suspense, now growing to fear, any longer, they stole across the
street, opened the door, and went in. Over the kitchen fire, like
an evil spirit of the squabby order, crouched Mrs Catanach, waiting
for Jean; no one else was to be found.

About ten o'clock the same evening, as Mr Graham sat by his peat
fire, some one lifted the latch of the outer door and knocked at
the inner. His invitation to enter was answered by the appearance
of Miss Horn, gaunt and grim as usual, but with more than the wonted
fire gleaming from the shadowy cavern of her bonnet. She made no
apology for the lateness of her visit, but seated herself at the
other side of the deal table, and laid upon it a paper parcel,
which she proceeded to open with much deliberation and suppressed
plenitude. Having at length untied the string with the long fingers
of a hand which, notwithstanding its evident strength, trembled so
as almost to defeat the attempt, she took from the parcel a packet
of old letters sealed with spangled wax, and pushed it across the
table to the schoolmaster, saying - "Hae, Sandy Graham! Naebody
but yersel' has a richt to say what's to be dune wi' them."

He put out his hand and took them gently, with a look of sadness
but no surprise.

"Dinna think I hae been readin' them, Sandy Graham. Na, na! I wad
read nae honest man's letters, be they written to wha they micht."

Mr Graham was silent.

"Ye're a guid man, Sandy Graham," Miss Horn resumed, "gien God ever
took the pains to mak ane. Dinna think onything atween you an' her
wad hae brocht me at this time o' nicht to disturb ye in yer ain
chaumer. Na, na! Whatever was atween you twa had an honest man intill
't, an' I wad hae taen my time to gie ye back yer dockiments. But
there 's some o' anither mark here."

As she spoke, she drew from the parcel a small cardboard box,
broken at the sides, and tied with a bit of tape. This she undid
and, turning the box upside down, tumbled its contents out on the

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