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table before him.

"What mak ye o' sic like as thae?" she said.

"Do you want me to - ?" asked the schoolmaster with trembling voice.

"I jist div," she answered.

They were a number of little notes - some of them but a word or
two, and signed with initials; others longer, and signed in full.
Mr Graham took up one of them reluctantly, and unfolded it softly.
He had hardly looked at it when he started and exclaimed, "God have
mercy! What can be the date of this!"

There was no date to it. He held it in his hand for a minute, his
eyes fixed on the fire, and his features almost convulsed with his
efforts at composure; then laid it gently on the table, and said
but without turning his eyes to Miss Horn,

"I cannot read this. You must not ask me. It refers doubtless to
the time when Miss Campbell was governess to Lady Annabel. I see
no end to be answered by my reading one of these letters."

"I daursay! Wha ever saw 'at wadna luik?" returned Miss Horn, with
a glance keen as an eagle's into the thoughtful eyes of her friend.

"Why not do by the writer of these as you have done by me? Why not
take them to him?" suggested Mr Graham.

"That wad be but thoomb fingert wark - to lat gang the en' o' yer
hank!" exclaimed Miss Horn.

"I do not understand you, ma'am."

"Weel, I maun gar ye un'erstan' me. There's things whiles, Sandy
Graham, 'at 's no easy to speyk aboot - but I hae nae feelin's,
an' we 'll a' be deid or lang, an' that's a comfort. Man 'at ye
are, ye 're the only human bein' I wad open my moo' till aboot this
maitter, an' that's 'cause ye lo'e the memory o' my puir lassie,
Grizell Cam'ell."

"It is not her memory, it is herself I love," said the schoolmaster
with trembling voice. "Tell me what you please: you may trust me."

"Gien I needit you to tell me that, I wad trust ye as I wad the
black dog wi' butter! - Hearken, Sandy Graham."

The result of her communication and their following conference
was, that she returned about midnight with a journey before her,
the object of which was to place the letters in the safe keeping
of a lawyer friend in the neighbouring county town.

Long before she reached home, Mrs Catanach had left - not without
communication with her ally, in spite of a certain precaution
adopted by her mistress, the first thing the latter did when she
entered being to take the key of the cellar stairs from her pocket,
and release Jean, who issued crestfallen and miserable, and was
sternly dismissed to bed. The next day, however, for reasons of her
own, Miss Horn permitted her to resume her duties about the house
without remark, as if nothing had happened serious enough to render
further measures necessary.


Abandoning all her remaining effects to Jean's curiosity, if indeed
it were no worse demon that possessed her, Miss Horn, carrying
a large reticule, betook herself to the Lossie Arms, to await the
arrival of the mail coach from the west, on which she was pretty
sure of a vacant seat.

It was a still, frosty, finger pinching dawn, and the rime lay
thick wherever it could lie; but Miss Horn's red nose was carried
in front of her in a manner that suggested nothing but defiance
to the fiercest attacks of cold. Declining the offered shelter of
the landlady's parlour, she planted herself on the steps of the inn,
and there stood until the sound of the guard's horn came crackling
through the frosty air, heralding the apparition of a flaming
chariot, fit for the sun god himself, who was now lifting his red
radiance above the horizon. Having none inside, the guard gallantly
offered his one lady passenger a place in the heart of his vehicle,
but she declined the attention - to him, on the ground of preferring
the outside, - for herself, on the ground of uncertainty whether
he had a right to bestow the privilege. But there was such a fire
in her heart that no frost could chill her; such a bright bow in
her west, that the sun now rising in the world's east was but a
reflex of its splendour. True, the cloud against which it glowed
was very dark with bygone wrong and suffering, but so much the more
brilliant seemed the hope now arching the entrance of the future.
Still, although she never felt the cold, and the journey was but
of a few miles, it seemed long and wearisome to her active spirit,
which would gladly have sent her tall person striding along, to
relieve both by the discharge of the excessive generation of muscle
working electricity.

At length the coach drove into the town, and stopped at the Duff
Arms. Miss Horn descended, straightened her long back with some
difficulty, shook her feet, loosened her knees, and after a douceur
to the guard more liberal than was customary, in acknowledgment of
the kindness she had been unable to accept, marched off with the
stride of a grenadier to find her lawyer.

Their interview did not relieve her of much of the time, which now
hung upon her like a cloak of lead, and the earliness of the hour
would not have deterred her from at once commencing a round of
visits to the friends she had in the place; but the gates of the
lovely environs of Fife House stood open, and although there were
no flowers now, and the trees were leafless, waiting in poverty and
patience for their coming riches, they drew her with the offer of
a plentiful loneliness and room. She accepted it, entered, and for
two hours wandered about their woods and walks.

Entering with her the well known domain, the thought meets me:
what would be the effect on us men of such a periodical alternation
between nothing and abundance as these woods undergo? Perhaps in
the endless variety of worlds there may be one in which that is
among the means whereby its dwellers are saved from self and lifted
into life; a world in which during the one half of the year they
walk in state, in splendour, in bounty, and during the other are
plunged in penury and labour.

Such speculations were not in Miss Horn's way; but she was better
than the loftiest of speculations, and we will follow her. By and
by she came out of the woods, and found herself on the banks of
the Wan Water, a broad, fine river, here talking in wide rippled
innocence from bank to bank, there lying silent and motionless and
gloomy, as if all the secrets of the drowned since the creation of
the world lay dim floating in its shadowy bosom. In great sweeps
it sought the ocean, and the trees stood back from its borders,
leaving a broad margin of grass between, as if the better to see
it go. Just outside the grounds and before reaching the sea, it
passed under a long bridge of many arches - then, trees and grass
and flowers and all greenery left behind, rushed through a waste
of storm heaped pebbles into the world water. Miss Horn followed
it out of the grounds and on to the beach.

Here its channel was constantly changing. Even while she stood
gazing at its rapid rush, its bank of pebbles and sand fell almost
from under her feet. But her thoughts were so busy that she scarcely
observed even what she saw, and hence it was not strange that she
should be unaware of having been followed and watched all the way.
Now from behind a tree, now from a corner of the mausoleum, now
from behind a rock, now over the parapet of the bridge, the mad
laird had watched her. From a heap of shingle on the opposite side
of the Wan Water, he was watching her now. Again and again he had
made a sudden movement as if to run and accost her, but had always
drawn back again and concealed himself more carefully than before.

At length she turned in the direction of the town. It was a quaint
old place - a royal burgh for five centuries, with streets irregular
and houses of much individuality. Most of the latter were humble
in appearance, bare and hard in form, and gray in hue; but there
were curious corners, low archways, uncompromising gables, some with
corbel steps - now and then an outside stair, a delicious little
dormer window, or a gothic doorway, sometimes with a bit of carving
over it.

With the bent head of the climber, Miss Horn was walking up a
certain street, called from its precipitousness the Strait, that
is difficult, Path - an absolute Hill of Difficulty, when she was
accosted by an elderly man, who stood in the doorway of one of the

"Ken ye wha 's yon watchin' ye frae the tap o' the brae, mem?" he

Miss Horn looked up: there was no one there.

"That 's it! he's awa' again! That's the w'y he 's been duin' this
last hoor, at least, to my knowledge. I saw him watchin' ilka mov'
ye made, mem, a' the time ye was doon upo' the shore - an there
he is noo, or was a meenute ago, at the heid o' the brae, glowerin'
the een oot o' 's heid at ye, mem!"

"Div ye ken him?" asked Miss Horn.

"No, mem - 'cep' by sicht o' ee; he hasna been lang aboot the
toon. Some fowk sae he's dementit; but he's unco quaiet, speyks to
nobody, an' gien onybody speyk to him, jist rims. Cud he be kennin'
you, no? Ye 're a stranger here, mem."

"No sic a stranger, John!" returned Miss Horn, calling the man by
his name, for she recognized him as the beadle of the parish church.
"What 's the body like?"

"A puir, wee, hump backit cratur, wi' the face o' a gentleman."

"I ken him weel," said Miss Horn. "He is a gentleman - gien ever
God made ane. But he 's sair afflickit. Whaur does he lie at nicht
- can ye tell me?"

"I ken naething aboot him, mem, by what comes o' seein' him sic
like 's the day, an' ance teetin (peering) in at the door o' the
kirk. I wad hae weised him till a seat, but the moment II luikit at
him, awa' he ran. He 's unco cheenged though, sin' the first time
I saw him."

Since he lost Phemy, fear had been slaying him. No one knew where
he slept; but in the daytime he haunted the streets, judging them
safer than the fields or woods. The moment any one accosted him,
however, he fled like the wind. He had "no art to find the mind's
construction in the face;" and not knowing whom to trust, he
distrusted all. Humanity was good in his eyes, but there was no
man. The vision of Miss Horn was like the dayspring from on high to
him; with her near, the hosts of the Lord seemed to encamp around
him; but the one word he had heard her utter about his back, had
caused in him an invincible repugnance to appearing before her, and
hence it was that at a distance he had haunted her steps without
nearer approach.

There was indeed a change upon him! His clothes hung about him -
not from their own ragged condition only, but also from the state
of skin and bone to which he was reduced, his hump showing like a
great peg over which they had been carelessly cast. Half the round
of his eyes stood out from his face, whose pallor betokened the ever
recurring rush of the faintly sallying troops back to the citadel
of the heart. He had always been ready to run, but now he looked
as if nothing but weakness and weariness kept him from running
always. Miss Horn had presently an opportunity of marking the sad

For ere she reached the head of the Strait Path, she heard sounds
as of boys at play, and coming out on the level of the High Street,
saw a crowd, mostly of little boys, in the angle made by a garden
wall with a house whose gable stood halfway across the pavement.
It being Saturday, they had just left school in all the exuberance
of spirits to which a half holiday gives occasion. In most of them
the animal nature was, for the time at least, far wider awake than
the human, and their proclivity towards the sport of the persecutor
was strong. To them any living thing that looked at once odd and
helpless was an outlaw - a creature to be tormented, or at best
hunted beyond the visible world. A meagre cat, an overfed pet
spaniel, a ditchless frog, a horse whose days hung over the verge
of the knacker's yard - each was theirs in virtue of the amusement
latent in it, which it was their business to draw out; but of all
such property an idiot would yield the most, and a hunchback idiot,
such as was the laird in their eyes, was absolutely invaluable -
beyond comparison the best game in the known universe. When he left
Portlossie, the laird knew pretty well what risks he ran, although
he preferred even them to the dangers he hoped by his flight to
avoid. It was he whom the crowd in question surrounded.

They had begun by rough teasing, to which he had responded with
smiles - a result which did not at all gratify them, their chief
object being to enrage him. They had therefore proceeded to small
torments, and were ready to go on to worse, their object being with
the laird hard to compass. Unhappily, there were amongst them two
or three bigger boys.

The moment Miss Horn descried what they were about, she rushed into
the midst of them, like a long bolt from a catapult, and scattering
them right and left from their victim, turned and stood in front
of him, regarding his persecutors with defiance in her flaming eye,
and vengeance in her indignant nose. But there was about Miss Horn
herself enough of the peculiar to mark her also, to the superficial
observer, as the natural prey of boys; and the moment the first
billow of consternation had passed and sunk, beginning to regard
her as she stood, the vain imagination awoke in these young lords
of misrule. They commenced their attack upon her by resuming it
upon her protege. She spread out her skirts, far from voluminous,
to protect him as he cowered behind them, and so long as she was
successful in shielding him, her wrath smouldered - but powerfully.
At length one of the bigger boys, creeping slyly up behind the front
row of smaller ones, succeeded in poking a piece of iron rod past
her, and drawing a cry from the laird. Out blazed the lurking
flame. The boy had risen, and was now attempting to prosecute like
an ape, what he had commenced like a snake. Inspired by the God of
armies - the Lord of hosts, she rushed upon him, and struck him
into the gutter. He fell in the very spot where he had found his
weapon, and there he lay. The Christian Amazon turned to the laird;
overflowing with compassion she stooped and kissed his forehead,
then took him by the hand to lead him away. But most of the enemy
had gathered around their fallen comrade, and seized with some
anxiety as to his condition, Miss Horn approached the group: the
instant she turned towards it, the laird snatched his hand from
hers, darted away like a hunting spider, and shot down the Strait
Path to the low street: by the time his protectress had looked
over the heads of the group, seen that the young miscreant was
not seriously injured, and requested him to take that for meddling
with a helpless innocent, the object of her solicitude, whom she
supposed standing behind her, was nowhere to be seen. Twenty voices,
now obsequious, were lifted to acquaint her with the direction in
which he had gone; but it was vain to attempt following him, and
she pursued her way, somewhat sore at his want of faith in her, to
the house of a certain relative, a dressmaker, whom she visited as
often as she went to Duff Harbour.

Now Miss Forsyth was one of a small sect of worshippers which had,
not many years before, built a chapel in the town - a quiet, sober,
devout company, differing from their neighbours in nothing deeply
touching the welfare of humanity. Their chief fault was, that,
attributing to comparative trifles a hugely disproportionate value,
they would tear the garment in pieces rather than yield their notion
of the right way of wrapping it together.

It so happened that, the next morning, a minister famous in
the community was to preach to them, on which ground Miss Forsyth
persuaded her relative to stop over the Sunday, and go with her
to their chapel. Bethinking herself next that her minister had no
sermon to prepare, she took Miss Horn to call upon him.

Mr Bigg was one of those men whose faculty is always underestimated
by their acquaintances and overestimated by their friends; to
overvalue him was impossible. He was not merely of the salt of the
earth, but of the leaven of the kingdom, contributing more to the
true life of the world than many a thousand far more widely known
and honoured. Such as this man are the chief springs of thought,
feeling, inquiry, action, in their neighbourhood; they radiate help
and breathe comfort; they reprove, they counsel, they sympathize;
in a word, they are doorkeepers of the house of God. Constantly
upon its threshold, and every moment pushing the door to peep in,
they let out radiance enough to keep the hearts of men believing
in the light. They make an atmosphere about them in which spiritual
things can thrive, and out of their school often come men who do
greater things, better they cannot do, than they.

Although a separatist as to externals, he was in heart a most
catholic man - would have found himself far too catholic for the
community over which he presided, had its members been capable
of understanding him. Indeed, he had with many, although such was
the force of his character that no one dared a word to that effect
in his hearing, the reputation of being lax in his ideas of what
constituted a saving faith; and most of the sect being very narrow
minded, if not small hearted, in their limitations of the company
fitly partaking of the last supper of our Lord - requiring proof
of intellectual accord with themselves as to the how and why of
many things, especially in regard of what they called the plan of
salvation, he was generally judged to be misled by the deceitful
kindliness of the depraved human heart in requiring as the ground
of communion only such an uplook to Jesus as, when on earth, Jesus
himself had responded to with healing. He was larger hearted, and
therefore larger minded, than his people.

In the course of their conversation, Miss Forsyth recounted, with
some humour, her visitor's prowess on behalf of the laird - much
to honest Mr Bigg's delight.

"What ither cud I du?" said Miss Horn apologetically. "But I doobt
I strack ower sair. Maybe ye wadna objec', sir, to gang and speir
efter the laddie, an' gie him some guid advice?"

"I'll do that," returned Mr Bigg. - "Are we to have the pleasure
of your company in our conventicle tomorrow?" he added, after a
little pause. "Dr Blare is going to preach."

"Will ye hae me, Mr Bigg?"

"Most willingly, ma'am; and we 'll be still better pleased if you
'll sit down with us to the Lord's table afterwards."

"I gang to the perris kirk, ye ken," said Miss Horn, supposing the
good man unaware of the fact.

"Oh! I know that, ma'am. But don't you think, as we shall, I
trust, sit down together to his heavenly supper it would be a good
preparation to sit down together, once at least, to his earthly
supper first?"

"I didna ken 'at ye wad hae ony but yer ain fowk! I hae aften thoucht
mysel', it was jist the ae thing ony Christian sud be ready to du
wi' ony ither. Is 't a new thing wi' ye to haud open hoose this
gait, sir, - gien I may tak the leeberty to speir?"

"We don't exactly keep open house. We wouldn't like to have any
one with us who would count it poor fare. But still less would we
like to exclude one of the Lord's friends. If that is a new thing,
it ought to be an old one. - You believe in Jesus Christ - don't
you, ma'am?"

"I dinna ken whether I believe in him as ye wad ca' believin' or
no - there's sic a heap o' things broucht to the fore nooadays
'at I canna richtly say I un'erstan'. But as he dee'd for me, I
wad dee for him. Raither nor say I didna ken him, I wad hing aside
him. Peter an' a', I canna say less."

Mr Bigg's eyes began to smart, and he turned away his head.

"Gien that 'll du wi' ye," Miss Horn went on, "an' ye mean nae
desertion o' the kirk o' my father an' his fathers afore him, I
wad willin'ly partak wi' ye."

"You'll be welcome, Miss Horn - as welcome, as any of my own

"Weel, noo, that I ca' Christian," said Miss Horn, rising. "An'
'deed I cud wuss," she added, "'at in oor ain kirk we had mair
opportunity, for ance i' the twalmonth 's no verra aften to tak up
the thouchts 'at belang to the holy ordnance."

The next day, after a powerful sermon from a man who, although
in high esteem, was not for moral worth or heavenly insight to
be compared with him whose place he took, they proceeded to the
celebration of the Lord's supper, after the fashion of that portion
of the church universal.

The communicants sat in several long pews facing the communion
table, which was at the foot of the pulpit. After the reading of St
Paul's account of the institution of the Lord's Supper, accompanied
by prayers and addresses, the deacons carried the bread to the
people, handing a slice to the first in each pew; each person in
turn broke off a portion, and handed what remained to the next:
thus they divided it among themselves.

It so happened that, in moving up to the communion seats, Miss
Forsyth and Miss Horn were the last to enter one of them, and Miss
Horn, very needlessly insisting on her custom of having her more
capable ear towards her friend, occupied the place next the passage.

The service had hardly commenced, when she caught sight of the
face of the mad laird peeping in at the door, which was in the side
of the building, near where she sat. Their eyes met. With a half
repentant, half apologetic look, he crept in, and, apparently to
get as near his protectress as he could, sat down in the entrance
of an empty pew, just opposite the one in which she was seated, on
the other side of the narrow passage. His presence attracted little
notice, for it was quite usual for individuals of the congregation
who were not members of the church to linger on the outskirts of
the company as spectators.

By the time the piece of bread reached Miss Horn from the other
end, it was but a fragment. She broke it in two, and, reserving
one part for herself in place of handing the remnant to the deacon
who stood ready to take it, stretched her arm across the passage,
and gave it to Mr Stewart, who had been watching the proceedings
intently. He received it from her hand, bent his head over it
devoutly, and ate it, unconscious of the scandalized looks of the
deacon, who knew nothing of the miserable object thus accepting
rather than claiming a share in the common hope of men.

When the cup followed, the deacon was on the alert, ready to take
it at once from the hands of Miss Horn. But as it left her lips she
rose, grasping it in both hands, and with the dignity of a messenger
of the Most High, before which the deacon drew back, bore it to the
laird, and having made him drink the little that was left, yielded
it to the conservator of holy privileges, with the words:

"Hoots, man! the puir body never had a taste o' the balm o' Gilead
in a' 's persecutit life afore!"

The liberality of Mr Bigg had not been lost upon her: freely she
had received - freely she gave. What was good must, because it
was good, be divided with her neighbour. It was a lawless act.

As soon as the benediction was spoken, the laird slipped away, but
as he left the seat, Miss Horn heard him murmur - "Eh, the bonny
man! the bonny man!" He could hardly have meant the deacon. He might
have meant Mr Bigg, who had concluded the observance with a simple
and loving exhortation.


When Miss Horn bethought herself that night, in prospect of
returning home the next day, that she had been twice in the company
of the laird and had not even thought of asking him about Phemy,
she reproached herself not a little; and it was with shame that
she set out, immediately on her arrival, to tell Malcolm that she
had seen him. No one at the House being able to inform her where
he was at the moment, she went on to Duncan's cottage. There she
found the piper, who could not tell her where his boy was, but gave
her a hearty welcome, and offered her a cup of tea, which, as it
was now late in the afternoon, Miss Horn gladly accepted. As he
bustled about to prepare it, refusing all assistance from his guest,
he began to open his mind to her on a subject much in his thoughts
- namely, Malcolm's inexplicable aversion to Mrs Stewart.

"Ta nem of Stewart will pe a nople worrt, mem," he said.

"It's guid eneuch to ken a body by," answered Miss Horn.

"If ta poy will pe a Stewart," he went on, heedless of the
indifference of her remark, "who'll pe knowing put he'll may pe of
ta plood royal!"

"There didna leuk to be muckle royalty aboot auld John, honest man,
wha cudna rule a wife, though he had but ane!" returned Miss Horn.

"If you 'll please, mem, ton't you'll pe too sherp on ta poor man

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldMalcolm → online text (page 37 of 43)