William Black.

A daughter of Heth. A novel online

. (page 27 of 30)
Online LibraryWilliam BlackA daughter of Heth. A novel → online text (page 27 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

turn them out of the house.

"Sat is what I will do," observed Neil, advanc-


ing calmly, with the sort of deferential and yet firm
air of the private soldier.

"Please, mem, will ye go, or will I pit ye oot 0'
sa house)"

"Lay a finger on me, and I will set fire to the
place, and bum you and it into cinders. Savages
that you are — and idiots!"

"You will say what you please," observed Neil,
who probably considered these phrases as rather
feeble when compared with some that he knew in
his native tongue; "but I mean to put ye both oot
o' sa house. I will not strike you — Cootness knaws;
but I wiU jist tek ye up, one by one, and carry ye
down sa stairs, and out into sa gairden, and leave
ye there. Will ye go, or will ye not go)"

"Do you know who I am, you idiot?" cried the
woman, with her face grown purple with passion.

Her companion laid her hand on her arm; she
shook her off.

"I do not care," said the Pensioner.

"I am Lady Earlshope, you ignorant brutes and
beasts!" she cried. "And I will have every one of
you starved until a crow would not pick your eyes
out, and Fll have you whipped, and starved, you
ignorant hounds!"

"Lady Earlshope!" said the Housekeeper, rather
falling back.



The quieter of the two women again interposed
and endeavoured to pacify her companion. She,
indeed, seemed rather frightened. Eventually, how-
ever, she managed to get her infuriated mistress
coaxed out of the room and down the stair; and as
they were going down, they nearly stumbled over a
third occupant of the house — the Lodgekeeper, who,
knowing that the Hoiisekeq)er was alone, had come
up to see if he could be of ajssistance.

"Who are youl*' she asked. "Oh, I remember.
I suppose you have been listening. Well, you can
go and tell your babbling neighbours of the recep-
tion Lady Earlshope met with in her own house."

This is precisely what the man did. He had
overheard much of the stormy scene in the drawing-
room, and, being of a prudent disposition, did not
wish to have an3rthing to do with it When the
carriage drove off, he went back to the lodge, leav-
ing the Housekeeper and the Pensioner upder the
delusion that they alone knew the relationship of
this woman to Lord Earlshope. But the Lodge-
keeper revealed the secret, in an awe^stricken Way,
to his wife, who whispered it, in profound confi-
dence, to one of the female servants, who told it to
her mother in the village.

There it ran the round, with such exaggerations
and comments as may be imagined; and if Co-



quette had been looked on rather askance from the
moment of her coming to Airlie, this news placed
her under the ban of a definite suspicion, and even
horror. What were her relations with the drunken
and passionate woman who had accosted her, in
the open face of day, on that memorable Sabbath
morning? What was the meaning of her intimacy
with Lord Earlshope, and the cause of his visits to
the Manse ever since she had come to live there 1

Even the children caught the fever of distrust,
and avoided Coquette. That would have been a
bitter thing for her to bear, had she noticed it; but
she was perhaps too much occupied then with her
own sad thoughts. Nor was the Minister aware
that his own conduct in harbouring this girl was
forming the subject of serious remark in the village.
The excuses made for him were in themselves ac-
cusations. He was withdrawn from worldly affairs.
He was engrossed in his books. He was liable to
be imposed on. All this was said; but none the
less was it felt that the duty of looking sharply
after the conduct of his household and the persons
around him was specially incumbent on one whose
business it was to see narrowly to the interests of
the Church, and set an example to his Christian


coquette's song. 241

Coquette's Song.

For a long period Coquette's life at Airlie was
so uneventful that it may be passed over with the
briefest notice. It seemed to her that she had
passed through that season of youth and spring-
time when romance and the wild joys of anticipa-
tion ought to colour for a brief time the atmosphere
round a human life as if with rainbows. That was
all over — if, indeed, it had ever occurred to her.
There was now but the sad, grey monotony, the
passing weeks and months in this remote moorland
place, where the people seemed hard, unimpression-
able, unfriendly. She began to acquire notions of
duty. She began to devise charitable occupations
for herself. She even began to study various things
which could never by any chance be of use to her.
And she grew almost to love the slow, melancholy
droning by the old Scotch folk of those desolating
passages in the Prophets which told of woe and
wrath and the swift end of things, or which, still

A Davfrhitr of Heth. II. 1 6

Digitized by VjOOQIC


more appropriately, dealt with the vanity of life, and
the shortness of man's days.

The Whaup began to talk of marriage — she put
it farther and farther off. He seldom indeed came
to Airlie; for Dr. Menzies had been better than his
promise — accepted him as junior partner — and was
gradually entrusting a good deal of the business to
his care. The Whaup's studies were far from com-
plete; so that he had plenty to occupy himself with,
and his visits to Airlie were few and brief. On one
of these visits he said to his cousin —

"Coquette, you are growing very like a Scotch

"Whyl" she asked.

"In manner I mean; not in appearance. You are
not as demonstrative as you used to be. You appear
more settled, prosaic, matter-of-fact You have lost
all your old childish caprices; and you no longer
appear to be so pleased with every little thing that
happens. You are much graver than you used
to be."

"Do you think sol'* she said, absently.

"But when we are married I mean to take you
away from this slow place, and introduce you to
lots of pleasant people, and brighten you up into
the old Coquette."


coquette's song. 243

"I am very content to be here," she said,

"Content! Is that all you ask fori Content! I
suppose a nun is content with a stone cell six feet
square. But you were not intended to be content;
you must be delighted, and you shall be delighted.
Coquette, you never laugh now."

"And you," she said, "you are grown much
serious too."

"Oh, well," he said, "I have such a deal to
think about One has to drop robbing people's
gardens some day or rather."

"I have some things to think about also," she
said — "not always to make me laugh."

"What troubles you, then. Coquette?" he asked

"Oh, I cannot be asked questions, and ques-
tions always," she said, with a trace of fretful im-
patience, which was a startling surprise to him. "I
have much to do in the village, with the children
— and the parents, they do seem afraid of me."

The Whaup regarded her silently, with rather a
pained look in his face; and then she, looking up,
seemed to become aware that she had spoken
harshly. She put her hand on his hand, and
said —

"You must not be angry with me, Tom. I do

Digitized by VjOOQIC


often find myself getting vexed, I do not know
why; and I ask myself, if I do stay long enough at
Airlie, whether I shall become like Leesibeth and
her husband."

"You shall not stay long enough to try,'' said
the Whaup, cheerfully.

Then he went away up to Glasgow, determined
to work day and night to achieve this fair prospect
Sometimes he thought, when he heard his fellow-
students tell of their gay adventures with their
sweethearts, that his sweetheart, in bidding him
good-bye, had never given him one kiss. And
each time that he went down to Airlie, Coquette
seemed to him to be growing more and more like
the beautiful and sad Madonnas of early Italian
art, and he scarce dared to think of kissing her.

So the days went by, and the slow, humdrum
life of Airlie crept through the seasons, bringing
the people a little nearer to the churchyard up on
the moor that had received their fathers and their
forefathers. The Minister worked away with a wist-
ful earnestness at his Concordance on the Psalms;
and had the pride of a yoimg author in thinking
of its becoming a real, bound book with the open-
ing of the new year. Coquette went systematically
and gravely about her charitable works in the
village, and took no notice of the ill-favour with


coquette's song. 245

which her efforts were regarded. All that summer
and winter Earlshope remained empty.

One evening, in the beginning of the new year,
Mr. Gillespie the Schoolmaster came up to the
Manse, and was admitted into the study, where
Coquette and her uncle sat together, busy with an
array of proof-sheets. The Schoolmaster had a com-
munication to make. Mr. Cassilis, enjoying the
strange excitement and responsibility of correcting
the sheets of a work which would afterwards bear
his name, was forced to beg the Schoolmaster to
be brief; and he, thus goaded, informed them,
after a short preamble, that Earlshope was to be

The Schoolmaster was pleased with the surprise
which his news produced. Indeed, he had come
resolved to watch the effect of these tidings upon
the Minister's niece, so that he might satisfy his
mind of her being in secret collusion with the
young Lord of Earlshope; and he now glared at
her through his gold spectacles. She had started
on hearing the intelligence — so that she was
evidently unacquainted with it; and yet she showed
no symptoms of regret over an event which clearly
betokened Lord Earlshope's final withdrawal from
the country.

"A strange, even an unaccountable thing, it may



be termed," observed the Schoolmaster, ^'masmuch
as his Lordship was no spendthrift, and had more
money than could satisfy all his wants or neces-
sities, as one might say. Yet he has aye been a
singular young man — which may have been owing,
or caused by, certain circumstances or relationships
of which you have doubtless heard, Mr. Cassilis."

"I have heard too much of the vain talking of
the neighbourhood about his Lordship and his
affairs," said the Minister, impatiently turning to
his proofs.

"I will venture to say, Mr. Cassilis," remarked
the Schoolmaster, who was somewhat nettled, "that
it is no vain talking, as no one has been heard to
deny that he is a married man."

"Dear me!" said the Minister, looking up. "Of
what concern is it to either you or me, Mr. Gillespie,
whether he is a married man or not?"

The Schoolmaster was rather stunned. He
looked at Coquette. She sat apparently unimpres-
sionable and still. He heaved a sigh, and shook
his head; and then he rose.

"It is the duty o' a Christian — which I humbly
hope that I am, sir, — no' to think ill of his neigh-
bours; but I confess, Mr. Cassilis, ye go forward a
length in that airt, or direction, I might term it
rather, which is surprising."


coquette's song. 247

The Minister rose also.

"Let me see you through the passage, Mr.
Gillespie, which is dark at these times. I do not
claim for myself, however, any especial charity in
this matter; for I would observe that it is not al-
ways to a man's disfavour to believe him married."

As the passage was in reality exceedingly dark,
the Schoolmaster could not tell whether there was
in the Minister's eye a certain humorous twinkle
which he had sometimes observed there, and which,
to tell the truth, he did not particularly like, for it
generally accompanied a severe rebuke. However,
the Schoolmaster had done his duty. The Minister
was warned; and if any of his household were led
astray, the village of Airlie could wash its hands of
the matter.

At last there came people to make Earlshope
ready for the auctioneer's hammer; and then there
was a great sale, and the big house was gutted
and shut up. But neither it nor the estate was
sold; though strangers came from time to time to
look at both.

Once more the quiet moorland neighbourhood
returned to its quiet ways; and Coquette went the
round of her simple duties, lessening day by day
the vague prejudice which had somehow been
stirred up against her. It was with no such inten-



tion, certainly, that she laboured; it was enough if
the days passed, and if tlie Whaup were content to
cease writing for a definite answer about that mar-
riage which was yet far away in the future. Leezi-
beth looked on this new phase of the girFs character
with an esteem and approval tempered by some-
thing like awe. She could not tell what had taken
away from her all the old gaiety, and wilfulness,
and carelessness. Strangely enough, too, Leezibeth
was less her confidante now; and on the few occa-
sions that Lady Drum came over to Airlie the old
lady was surprised to find Coquette grown almost
distant and reserved in manner. Indeed, the girl
was as much alone there as if she had been afloat
on a raft at sea. All hope of change, of excite-
ment, of pleasure, seemed to have left her. She
seldom opened the piano; and, when she did,
"Drumclog" was no longer a martial air, but a
plaintive wail of grief.

Perhaps, of all the people around her, the one
that noticed most of her low spirits was the
Whaup's young brother Dugald, of whom she had
made a sort of pet. Very often she took him with
her on her missions into the village, or her walks
into the country round. And one day, as they were
sitting on the moor, she said to him —

"I suppose you never heard of an old German


coquette's song. 249

song that is very strange and sad? I wonder if I
can remember the words and repeat them to youu
They are something like this —

Tluree horsemen rode oat to the gate of the town: Good->byel
Fine-Sweetheart, she looked frcm her window down : Good-bye I
And if ill &te such grief must bring,
Then reach me hither your golden ring!
Good-bye J Good-bye 1 Good-bye I
Ah, parting wounds so bitterly I

And it is Death that parts us so : Good-bye I
Kany a rose-red maiden most go : Good-byel
He sunders many a man from wife :
They knew how happy a thing was life.
Good-byel Good-byel Good-byel
Ah, parting wounds so bitterly 1

He steals the infimt out of its bed: Good-bye!
And iidien shall I see my nut-brown maid t Good-b]re I
It is not to-morrow : ah, were it to-day 1
There are two that I know that would be gay I
Good-byel Good-byel God-bye I
Ah, parting wounds so bitterly I

«What does it mean?" asked the boy.

"I think it means," said Coquette, looking away
over the moor, "that everybody in the world is

"And are you miserable, tool" he asked.

"Not more than others, I suppose," said Coquette.




Coquette f(»rsakes her Friends.

The dull, grey atmosphere that thus hung over
Coquette's life was about to be pierced by a light-

Two years had passed away in a quiet, mono-
tonous fashion; and very little had happened during
that time to the people about Airlie. The Minister,
i* is true, had published his Concordance of the
Psalms; and not only had he received various
friendly and congratulatory letters about it from
clerg)rmen standing high in the estimation of the
world, but notice had been taken of the work in
the public prints, and that of a nature to fill the
old man's heart with secret joy. Coquette cut out
those paragraphs which were laudatory (suppressing
ruthlessly those which were not), and placed them
in a book. Indeed, she managed the whole busi-
ness; and, especially in the monetary portion of
it, insisted on keeping her negotiations with the
publishers a profound secret



"It is something for me to do, unde," she said

"And you have done it very well, Catherine,"
said the Minister. "I am fair surprised to see what
a goodly volume it has turned out — the smooth
paper — the dear printing — it is altogether what I
would call a presentable book."

The Minister would have been less surprised
had he known the reckless fashion in which Coquette
had given instructions to the publishers, and the
amount of money she subsequently and surrepti-
tiously and cheerfully paid. ♦

"There are newspapers," said the Minister, rue-
fully, "which they tell me deal in a light and pro-
fene fashion wi' religious matters. I hope the edi-
tors will read my Concordance carefully, before
writing of it in their journals."

"I do not think it is the editor who writes about
books," remarked Coquette. "An editor of a
Nantes newspaper did use to come to our house,
and I remember his saying to my papa, that he
gave books to his writers who could do nothing
else; so you must not be surprised if they do make
mistakes. As for him, uncle, I am sure he did not
know who wrote the Psalms."

"Very likely — very likely," said the Minister.
"But the editors of our newspapers are a different
dass of men, for they write for a religious nation


and must be acquainted wi' such things. The
Schoohnaster thinks I ought to write to the editois,
and beg them to read the book wi' care.*^

"I wouldn't do that, unde, if I were you,** said
Coquette; and somehow or other, the Minister had
of late got into such a habit of consulting and
obeying Coquette that her simple expression of
opinion sufficed, and he did not write to any

At times during that long period, but not often,
tiie Whaup came down to Airlie, and stayed from
the Saturday to the Monday morning. The anxious
and troubled way in which Coquette put aside any
reference to their future marriage struck him pain-
fully; but for the present he was content to be
almost silent. There was no use, he reflected, in
talking about this matter until he could definitely
say to her, "Come, and be my Mrife." He had no
right to press her to give any more definite promise
than she had already given, when he himself was
uncertain as to time. But, even now, he saw at no
great distance ahead the fortunate moment when
he could formally claim Coquette as his bride. His
place in the business of Dr. Menzies had been
secured to him; and his term of public study was
coming to an end. Every day that he rose, he
knew himself a day nearer to the time when he



should go down to Airlie and carry off with him
Coquette to be the wonder of all his friends in

At times, as he looked at Coquette, he felt
rather anxious; and wished that the day could pass
more quickly.

"I am afraid the dulness of this place is weigh-
ing very heavily on you, Coquette,*' he said to her
one Saturday afternoon that he had got down.

"You do say that often to me," she said, "and
I find you looking at me as if you were a doctor.
Yet I am not ill. It is true, I think that I am be-
coming Scotch, as you said once long ago; and all
your Scotch people at Airlie seem to me sad and
resigned in their faces. That is no harm, is it?"

"But why should you be sad and resigned?"

"I do catch it as an infection from the others,"
she said with a smile.

Yet he was not satisfied; and he went back to
Glasgow more impatient than ever.

"For," he said to himself, "once I can go and
ask her to fulfil her promise, there will be a chance
of breaking this depressing calm that has setded on
her. I will take her away from Airlie. I will get
three months' holidays, and take her down to see
the Loire, and then down through France to Mar-
seilles, and then on to Italy, and then back through



Switzerland. And only to think of Coquette being
always with me, and my having to order breakfast
for her, and see that the wine is always quite soimd
and good for her, and see that she is wrapped up
against the cold, and to listen always to her sweet
voice, and the broken English, and the little per-
plexed stammer now and again — isn't that some-
thing to work for? Hurry on, days, and weeks, and
months, and bring Coquette to me!"

So the time went by, and Coquette heard no-
thing of Lord Earlshope — not even the mention of
his name* But one dull morning in March, she
was walking by herself over the moor; and suddenly
she heard on the gravel of the path in front of her
the soimd of a quick footstep that she knew. Her
heart ceased to beat, and for a second she felt faint
and giddy. Then without ever lifting her head,
she endeavoured to turn aside and avoid him.
"Won't you even speak to me. Coquette?"
The sound of his voice made the blood spring
hotly to her face again, and recalled the wild beat-
ing of her heart; but still she stood immovable.
And then she said, in a low voice —

" Yes, I will speak to you if you wish."
He came nearer to her — his own face quite pale
— and said —

"I am glad you have nearly forgotten me,



Coquette; I came to see. I heard that you looked
very sad, and went about alone much, and were
pale; but I would rather hear you tell me, Coquette,
that it is all a mistake."

"I have not forgotten anything," said Coquette.


"Nothing at all."

"Coquette," he cried, coming quite close to
her, "tell me this — once for all — have you forgotten
nothing as I have forgotten nothing? — do you love
me as if we had just parted yesterday? — has all
this time done nothing for either of us?"

She looked round, wildly, as if seeking some
means of escape; and then, with a sort of shudder,
she found his arms roimd her as in the olden time,
and she was saying, almost incoherently —

"Oh, my darling, my darling, I love you more
than ever — night and day I have never ceased to
think of you — and now — and now my only wish is
to die — here, witii your arms round me!"

"Listen, Coquette, listen 1" he said. "Do you
know what I have done? A ship passes here in the
morning for America — I have taken two berths in
it, for you and for me — to-morrow we shall be
sailing away to a new world, and leaving all those
troubles behind us. Do you hear me, Coquette?"

The girl shuddered violently: her face was hid.



" You remember that woman/' he said, hurriedly.
'* Nothing has been heard of her for two years. I
have sought everywhere for her. She must be dead.
And so, Coquette, you know, we shall be married
when we get out there; and perhaps in after years
we shall come back to Airlie. But now, Coquette,
this is what you must do: The Caroline will wait
for you off Saltcoats to-night; you must come down
by yourself, and I will tell you how to get the pin-
nace to come out And then we are to meet the
ship, darling; and to-morrow you will have turned
your face to a new world, and will soon forget this
old one, liiat was so cruel to you. Wliat do you
say. Coquette?"

"Oh, I cannot, I cannot 1" murmured the girL
"What will become of my uncle?"

"Your uncle is an old man. He would have
been as lonely if you had never come to Airlie, Co-
quette; and we may come back to see him."

She looked up now, with a white face, into his
eyes, and said slowly —

"You know that if we go away to-night I
shall never see him again — nor any one of my

He rather shrank from that earnest look; but he
said, with eyes turned, "What are Mends to you,
Coquette? They cannot make you happy."



A little while after that, Coquette was on her
way back to the Manse, alone. She had promised
to go down to Saltcoats that night, and she had
sealed her sin with a kiss.

She scarcely knew what she had done; and yet
there was a dreadful consciousness of some impend-
ing evil pressing down on her heart. Her eyes were
fixed on the ground as she went along; and yet it
seemed to her that she knew the dark clouds were
glowing with a fiery crimson, and that there was a
light as of sunset gleaming over the moor. Then,
so still it was I She grew afraid that in this fear-
ful silence she should hear a voice speaking to her
from the sky that appeared to be close over her

Guilty and trembling she drew near to the Manse;
and seeing the Minister coming out of the gate, she
managed to avoid him, and stole like a culprit up
to her own room. The first thing that met her eyes
was a locket containing a portrait of her mother.
She took it up, and placed it in a drawer along
with the crucifix and some religious books to which

Online LibraryWilliam BlackA daughter of Heth. A novel → online text (page 27 of 30)