Beautiful story about the life of Robert Falconer. The story opens as Robert is a young boy living with his grandmother and tells of Robert's struggles to find God. Some of the Christian values that are taught during the writing of this book were very poignant.
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PART I. —HIS BOYHOOD. CHAPTER I. A RECOLLECTION. CHAPTER II. A VISITOR. CHAPTER III. THE BOAR'S HEAD. CHAPTER IV. SHARGAR. CHAPTER V. THE SYMPOSIUM. CHAPTER VI. MRS. FALCONER. CHAPTER VII. ROBERT TO THE RESCUE! CHAPTER VIII. THE ANGEL UNAWARES. CHAPTER IX. A DISCOVERY. CHAPTER X. ANOTHER DISCOVERY IN THE GARRET. CHAPTER XI. PRIVATE INTERVIEWS. CHAPTER XII. ROBERT'S PLAN OF SALVATION. CHAPTER XIII. ROBERT'S MOTHER. CHAPTER XIV. MARY ST. JOHN. CHAPTER XV. ERIC ERICSON. CHAPTER XVI. MR. LAMMIE'S FARM. CHAPTER XVII. ADVENTURES. CHAPTER XVIII. NATURE PUTS IN A CLAIM. CHAPTER XIX. ROBERT STEALS HIS OWN. CHAPTER XX. JESSIE HEWSON. CHAPTER XXI. THE DRAGON. CHAPTER XXII. DR. ANDERSON. CHAPTER XXIII. AN AUTO DA FÉ. CHAPTER XXIV. BOOT FOR BALE. CHAPTER XXV. THE GATES OF PARADISE.PART II. —HIS YOUTH. CHAPTER I. ROBERT KNOCKS CHAPTER II. THE STROKE. CHAPTER III. 'THE END CROWNS ALL'. CHAPTER IV. THE ABERDEEN GARRET. CHAPTER V. THE COMPETITION. CHAPTER VI. DR. ANDERSON AGAIN. CHAPTER VII. ERIC ERICSON. CHAPTER VIII. A HUMAN PROVIDENCE. CHAPTER IX. A HUMAN SOUL. CHAPTER X. A FATHER AND A DAUGHTER. CHAPTER XI. ROBERT'S VOW. CHAPTER XII. THE GRANITE CHURCH.CHAPTER XIII. SHARGAR'S ARM. CHAPTER XIV. MYSIE'S FACE. CHAPTER XV. THE LAST OF THE COALS. CHAPTER XVI. A STRANGE NIGHT. CHAPTER XVII. HOME AGAIN. CHAPTER XVIII. A GRAVE OPENED. CHAPTER XIX. ROBERT MEDIATES. CHAPTER XX. ERICSON LOSES TO WIN. CHAPTER XXI. SHARGAR ASPIRES. CHAPTER XXII. ROBERT IN ACTION. CHAPTER XXIII. ROBERT FINDS A NEW INSTRUMENT. CHAPTER XXIV. DEATH. CHAPTER XXV. IN MEMORIAM.PART III. —HIS MANHOOD. CHAPTER I. IN THE DESERT. CHAPTER II. HOME AGAIN.CHAPTER III. A MERE GLIMPSE. CHAPTER IV. THE DOCTOR'S DEATH. CHAPTER V. A TALK WITH GRANNIE. CHAPTER VI. SHARGAR'S MOTHER. CHAPTER VII. THE SILK-WEAVER. CHAPTER VIII. MY OWN ACQUAINTANCE. CHAPTER IX. THE BROTHERS. CHAPTER X. A NEOPHYTE. CHAPTER XI. THE SUICIDE.CHAPTER XII. ANDREW AT LAST.CHAPTER XIII. ANDREW REBELS. CHAPTER XIV. THE BROWN LETTER. CHAPTER XV. FATHER AND SON. CHAPTER XVI. CHANGE OF SCENE. CHAPTER XVII. IN THE COUNTRY. CHAPTER XVIII. THREE GENERATIONS. CHAPTER XIX. THE WHOLE STORY. CHAPTER XX. THE VANISHING. CHAPTER XXI. IN EXPECTATIONE.PART I.—HIS BOYHOOD.CHAPTER I. A RECOLLECTION.
Robert Falconer, school-boy, aged fourteen, thought he had never seen his father; that is, thought he had no recollection of having ever seen him. But the moment when my story begins, he had begun to doubt whether his belief in the matter was correct. And, as he went on thinking, he became more and more assured that he had seen his father somewhere about six years before, as near as a thoughtful boy of his age could judge of the lapse of a period that would form half of that portion of his existence which was bound into one by the reticulations of memory.
For there dawned upon his mind the vision of one Sunday afternoon. Betty had gone to church, and he was alone with his grandmother, reading The Pilgrim's Progress to her, when, just as Christian knocked at the wicket-gate, a tap came to the street door, and he went to open it. There he saw a tall, somewhat haggard-looking man, in a shabby black coat (the vision gradually dawned upon him till it reached the minuteness of all these particulars), his hat pulled down on to his projecting eyebrows, and his shoes very dusty, as with a long journey on foot—it was a hot Sunday, he remembered that—who looked at him very strangely, and without a word pushed him aside, and went straight into his grandmother's parlour, shutting the door behind him. He followed, not doubting that the man must have a right to go there, but questioning very much his right to shut him out. When he reached the door, however, he found it bolted; and outside he had to stay all alone, in the desolate remainder of the house, till Betty came home from church.
He could even recall, as he thought about it, how drearily the afternoon had passed. First he had opened the street door, and stood in it. There was nothing alive to be seen, except a sparrow picking up crumbs, and he would not stop till he was tired of him. The Royal Oak, down the street to the right, had not even a horseless gig or cart standing before it; and King Charles, grinning awfully in its branches on the signboard, was invisible from the distance at which he stood. In at the other end of the empty street, looked the distant uplands, whose waving corn and grass were likewise invisible, and beyond them rose one blue truncated peak in the distance, all of them wearily at rest this weary Sabbath day. However, there was one thing than which this was better, and that was being at church, which, to this boy at least, was the very fifth essence of dreariness.
He closed the door and went into the kitchen. That was nearly as bad. The kettle was on the fire, to be sure, in anticipation of tea; but the coals under it were black on the top, and it made only faint efforts, after immeasurable intervals of silence, to break into a song, giving a hum like that of a bee a mile off, and then relapsing into hopeless inactivity. Having just had his dinner, he was not hungry enough to find any resource in the drawer where the oatcakes lay, and, unfortunately, the old wooden clock in the corner was going, else there would have been some amusement in trying to torment it into demonstrations of life, as he had often done in less desperate circumstances than the present. At last he went up-stairs to the very room in which he now was, and sat down upon the floor, just as he was sitting now. He had not even brought his Pilgrim's Progress with him from his grandmother's room. But, searching about in all holes and corners, he at length found Klopstock's Messiah translated into English, and took refuge there till Betty came home. Nor did he go down till she called him to tea, when, expecting to join his grandmother and the stranger, he found, on the contrary, that he was to have his tea with Betty in the kitchen, after which he again took refuge with Klopstock in the garret, and remained there till it grew dark, when Betty came in search of him, and put him to bed in the gable-room, and not in his usual chamber. In the morning, every trace of the visitor had vanished, even to the thorn stick which he had set down behind the door as he entered.
All this Robert Falconer saw slowly revive on the palimpsest of his memory, as he washed it with the vivifying waters of recollection.CHAPTER II. A VISITOR.
It was a very bare little room in which the boy sat, but it was his favourite retreat. Behind the door, in a recess, stood an empty bedstead, without even a mattress upon it. This was the only piece of furniture in the room, unless some shelves crowded with papers tied up in bundles, and a cupboard in the wall, likewise filled with papers, could be called furniture. There was no carpet on the floor, no windows in the walls. The only light came from the door, and from a small skylight in the sloping roof, which showed that it was a garret-room. Nor did much light come from the open door, for there was no window on the walled stair to which it opened; only opposite the door a few steps led up into another garret, larger, but with a lower roof, unceiled, and perforated with two or three holes, the panes of glass filling which were no larger than the small blue slates which covered the roof: from these panes a little dim brown light tumbled into the room where the boy sat on the floor, with his head almost between his knees, thinking.
But there was less light than usual in the room now, though it was only half-past two o'clock, and the sun would not set for more than half-an-hour yet; for if Robert had lifted his head and looked up, it would have been at, not through, the skylight. No sky was to be seen. A thick covering of snow lay over the glass. A partial thaw, followed by frost, had fixed it there—a mass of imperfect cells and confused crystals. It was a cold place to sit in, but the boy had some faculty for enduring cold when it was the price to be paid for solitude. And besides, when he fell into one of his thinking moods, he forgot, for a season, cold and everything else but what he was thinking about—a faculty for which he was to be envied.
If he had gone down the stair, which described half the turn of a screw in its descent, and had crossed the landing to which it brought him, he could have entered another bedroom, called the gable or rather ga'le room, equally at his service for retirement; but, though carpeted and comfortably furnished, and having two windows at right angles, commanding two streets, for it was a corner house, the boy preferred the garret-room—he could not tell why. Possibly, windows to the streets were not congenial to the meditations in which, even now, as I have said, the boy indulged.
These meditations, however, though sometimes as abstruse, if not so continuous, as those of a metaphysician—for boys are not unfrequently more given to metaphysics than older people are able or, perhaps, willing to believe—were not by any means confined to such subjects: castle-building had its full share in the occupation of those lonely hours; and for this exercise of the constructive faculty, what he knew, or rather what he did not know, of his own history gave him scope enough, nor was his brain slow in supplying him with material corresponding in quantity to the space afforded. His mother had been dead for so many years that he had only the vaguest recollections of her tenderness, and none of her person. All he was told of his father was that he had gone abroad. His grandmother would never talk about him, although he was her own son. When the boy ventured to ask a question about where he was, or when he would return, she always replied—'Bairns suld haud their tongues.' Nor would she vouchsafe another answer to any question that seemed to her from the farthest distance to bear down upon that subject. 'Bairns maun learn to haud their tongues,' was the sole variation of which the response admitted. And the boy did learn to hold his tongue. Perhaps he would have thought less about his father if he had had brothers or sisters, or even if the nature of his grandmother had been such as to admit of their relationship being drawn closer—into personal confidence, or some measure of familiarity. How they stood with regard to each other will soon appear.
Whether the visions vanished from his brain because of the thickening of his blood with cold, or he merely acted from one of those undefined and inexplicable impulses which occasion not a few of our actions, I cannot tell, but all at once Robert started to his feet and hurried from the room. At the foot of the garret stair, between it and the door of the gable-room already mentioned, stood another door at right angles to both, of the existence of which the boy was scarcely aware, simply because he had seen it all his life and had never seen it open. Turning his back on this last door, which he took for a blind one, he went down a short broad stair, at the foot of which was a window. He then turned to the left into a long flagged passage or transe, passed the kitchen door on the one hand, and the double-leaved street door on the other; but, instead of going into the parlour, the door of which closed the transe, he stopped at the passage-window on the right, and there stood looking out.
What might be seen from this window certainly could not be called a very pleasant prospect. A broad street with low houses of cold gray stone is perhaps as uninteresting a form of street as any to be found in the world, and such was the street Robert looked out upon. Not a single member of the animal creation was to be seen in it, not a pair of eyes to be discovered looking out at any of the windows opposite. The sole motion was the occasional drift of a vapour-like film of white powder, which the wind would lift like dust from the snowy carpet that covered the street, and wafting it along for a few yards, drop again to its repose, till another stronger gust, prelusive of the wind about to rise at sun-down,—a wind cold and bitter as death—would rush over the street, and raise a denser cloud of the white water-dust to sting the face of any improbable person who might meet it in its passage. It was a keen, knife-edged frost, even in the house, and what Robert saw to make him stand at the desolate window, I do not know, and I believe he could not himself have told. There he did stand, however, for the space of five minutes or so, with nothing better filling his outer eyes at least than a bald spot on the crown of the street, whence the wind had swept away the snow, leaving it brown and bare, a spot of March in the middle of January.
He heard the town drummer in the distance, and let the sound invade his passive ears, till it crossed the opening of the street, and vanished 'down the town.'
'There's Dooble Sanny,' he said to himself—'wi' siccan cauld han's, 'at he's playin' upo' the drum-heid as gin he was loupin' in a bowie (leaping in a cask).'
Then he stood silent once more, with a look as if anything would be welcome to break the monotony.
While he stood a gentle timorous tap came to the door, so gentle indeed that Betty in the kitchen did not hear it, or she, tall and Roman-nosed as she was, would have answered it before the long-legged dreamer could have reached the door, though he was not above three yards from it. In lack of anything better to do, Robert stalked to the summons. As he opened the door, these words greeted him:
'Is Robert at—eh! it's Bob himsel'! Bob, I'm byous (exceedingly) cauld.'
'What for dinna ye gang hame, than?'
'What for wasna ye at the schuil the day?'
'I spier ae queston at you, and ye answer me wi' anither.'
'Weel, I hae nae hame to gang till.'
'Weel, and I had a sair heid (a headache). But whaur's yer hame gane till than?'
'The hoose is there a' richt, but whaur my mither is I dinna ken. The door's lockit, an' Jeames Jaup, they tell me 's tane awa' the key. I doobt my mither's awa' upo' the tramp again, and what's to come o' me, the Lord kens.'
'What's this o' 't?' interposed a severe but not unmelodious voice, breaking into the conversation between the two boys; for the parlour door had opened without Robert's hearing it, and Mrs. Falconer, his grandmother, had drawn near to the speakers.
'What's this o' 't?' she asked again. 'Wha's that ye're conversin' wi' at the door, Robert? Gin it be ony decent laddie, tell him to come in, and no stan' at the door in sic a day 's this.'
As Robert hesitated with his reply, she looked round the open half of the door, but no sooner saw with whom he was talking than her tone changed. By this time Betty, wiping her hands in her apron, had completed the group by taking her stand in the kitchen door.
'Na, na,' said Mrs. Falconer. 'We want nane sic-like here. What does he want wi' you, Robert? Gie him a piece, Betty, and lat him gang.—Eh, sirs! the callant hasna a stockin'-fit upo' 'im—and in sic weather!'
For, before she had finished her speech, the visitor, as if in terror of her nearer approach, had turned his back, and literally showed her, if not a clean pair of heels, yet a pair of naked heels from between the soles and uppers of his shoes: if he had any stockings at all, they ceased before they reached his ankles.
'What ails him at me?' continued Mrs. Falconer, 'that he rins as gin I war a boodie? But it's nae wonner he canna bide the sicht o' a decent body, for he's no used till 't. What does he want wi' you, Robert?'
But Robert had a reason for not telling his grandmother what the boy had told him: he thought the news about his mother would only make her disapprove of him the more. In this he judged wrong. He did not know his grandmother yet.
'He's in my class at the schuil,' said Robert, evasively.
'Him? What class, noo?'
Robert hesitated one moment, but, compelled to give some answer, said, with confidence,
'I thocht as muckle! What gars ye play at hide and seek wi' me? Do ye think I dinna ken weel eneuch there's no a lad or a lass at the schuil but 's i' the Bible-class? What wants he here?'
'Ye hardly gae him time to tell me, grannie. Ye frichtit him.'
'Me fricht him! What for suld I fricht him, laddie? I'm no sic ferlie (wonder) that onybody needs be frichtit at me.'
The old lady turned with visible, though by no means profound offence upon her calm forehead, and walking back into her parlour, where Robert could see the fire burning right cheerily, shut the door, and left him and Betty standing together in the transe. The latter returned to the kitchen, to resume the washing of the dinner-dishes; and the former returned to his post at the window. He had not stood more than half a minute, thinking what was to be done with his school-fellow deserted of his mother, when the sound of a coach-horn drew his attention to the right, down the street, where he could see part of the other street which crossed it at right angles, and in which the gable of the house stood. A minute after, the mail came in sight—scarlet, spotted with snow—and disappeared, going up the hill towards the chief hostelry of the town, as fast as four horses, tired with the bad footing they had had through the whole of the stage, could draw it after them. By this time the twilight was falling; for though the sun had not yet set, miles of frozen vapour came between him and this part of the world, and his light was never very powerful so far north at this season of the year.
Robert turned into the kitchen, and began to put on his shoes. He had made up his mind what to do.
'Ye're never gaein' oot, Robert?' said Betty, in a hoarse tone of expostulation.
''Deed am I, Betty. What for no?'
'You 'at's been in a' day wi' a sair heid! I'll jist gang benn the hoose and tell the mistress, and syne we'll see what she'll please to say till 't.'
'Ye'll do naething o' the kin', Betty. Are ye gaein' to turn clash-pyet (tell-tale) at your age?'
'What ken ye aboot my age? There's never a man-body i' the toon kens aught aboot my age.'
'It's ower muckle for onybody to min' upo' (remember), is 't, Betty?'
'Dinna be ill-tongued, Robert, or I'll jist gang benn the hoose to the mistress.'
'Betty, wha began wi' bein' ill-tongued? Gin ye tell my grandmither that I gaed oot the nicht, I'll gang to the schuilmaister o' Muckledrum, and get a sicht o' the kirstenin' buik; an' gin yer name binna there, I'll tell ilkabody I meet 'at oor Betty was never kirstened; and that'll be a sair affront, Betty.'
'Hoot! was there ever sic a laddie!' said Betty, attempting to laugh it off. 'Be sure ye be back afore tay-time, 'cause yer grannie 'ill be speirin' efter ye, and ye wadna hae me lee aboot ye?'
'I wad hae naebody lee about me. Ye jist needna lat on 'at ye hear her. Ye can be deif eneuch when ye like, Betty. But I s' be back afore tay-time, or come on the waur.'
Betty, who was in far greater fear of her age being discovered than of being unchristianized in the search, though the fact was that she knew nothing certain about the matter, and had no desire to be enlightened, feeling as if she was thus left at liberty to hint what she pleased,—Betty, I say, never had any intention of going 'benn the hoose to the mistress.' For the threat was merely the rod of terror which she thought it convenient to hold over the back of the boy, whom she always supposed to be about some mischief except he were in her own presence and visibly reading a book: if he were reading aloud, so much the better. But Robert likewise kept a rod for his defence, and that was Betty's age, which he had discovered to be such a precious secret that one would have thought her virtue depended in some cabalistic manner upon the concealment of it. And, certainly, nature herself seemed to favour Betty's weakness, casting such a mist about the number of her years as the goddesses of old were wont to cast about a wounded favourite; for some said Betty was forty, others said she was sixty-five, and, in fact, almost everybody who knew her had a different belief on the matter.
By this time Robert had conquered the difficulty of induing boots as hard as a thorough wetting and as thorough a drying could make them, and now stood prepared to go. His object in setting out was to find the boy whom his grandmother had driven from the door with a hastier and more abject flight than she had in the least intended. But, if his grandmother should miss him, as Betty suggested, and inquire where he had been, what was he to say? He did not mind misleading his grannie, but he had a great objection to telling her a lie. His grandmother herself delivered him from this difficulty.
'Robert, come here,' she called from the parlour door. And Robert obeyed.
'Is 't dingin' on, Robert?' she asked.
'No, grannie; it's only a starnie o' drift.'
The meaning of this was that there was no fresh snow falling, or beating on, only a little surface snow blowing about.
'Weel, jist pit yer shune on, man, and rin up to Miss Naper's upo' the Squaur, and say to Miss Naper, wi' my compliments, that I wad be sair obleeged till her gin she wad len' me that fine receipt o' hers for crappit heids, and I'll sen' 't back safe the morn's mornin'. Rin, noo.'
This commission fell in admirably with Robert's plans, and he started at once.CHAPTER III. THE BOAR'S HEAD.
Miss Napier was the eldest of three maiden sisters who kept the principal hostelry of Rothieden, called The Boar's Head; from which, as Robert reached the square in the dusk, the mail-coach was moving away with a fresh quaternion of horses. He found a good many boxes standing upon the pavement close by the archway that led to the inn-yard, and around them had gathered a group of loungers, not too cold to be interested. These were looking towards the windows of the inn, where the owner of the boxes had evidently disappeared.
'Saw ye ever sic a sicht in oor toon afore!' said Dooble Sanny, as people generally called him, his name being Alexander Alexander, pronounced, by those who chose to speak of him with the ordinary respect due from one mortal to another, Sandy Elshender. Double Sandy was a soutar, or shoemaker, remarkable for his love of sweet sounds and whisky. He was, besides, the town-crier, who went about with a drum at certain hours of the morning and evening, like a perambulating clock, and also made public announcements of sales, losses, &c.; for the rest—a fierce, fighting fellow when in anger or in drink, which latter included the former.
'What's the sicht, Sandy?' asked Robert, coming up with his hands in the pockets of his trowsers.
'Sic a sicht as ye never saw, man,' returned Sandy; 'the bonniest leddy ever man set his ee upo'. I culd na hae thocht there had been sic a woman i' this warl'.'
'Hoot, Sandy!' said Robert, 'a body wad think she was tint (lost) and ye had the cryin' o' her. Speyk laicher, man; she'll maybe hear ye. Is she i' the inn there?'
'Ay is she,' answered Sandy. 'See sic a warl' o' kists as she's brocht wi' her,' he continued, pointing towards the pile of luggage. 'Saw ye ever sic a bourach (heap)? It jist blecks (beats) me to think what ae body can du wi' sae mony kists. For I mayna doobt but there's something or ither in ilka ane o' them. Naebody wad carry aboot toom (empty) kists wi' them. I cannot mak' it oot.'
The boxes might well surprise Sandy, if we may draw any conclusions from the fact that the sole implement of personal adornment which he possessed was two inches of a broken comb, for which he had to search when he happened to want it, in the drawer of his stool, among awls, lumps of rosin for his violin, masses of the same substance wrought into shoemaker's wax for his ends, and packets of boar's bristles, commonly called birse, for the same.
'Are thae a' ae body's?' asked Robert.
'Troth are they. They're a' hers, I wat. Ye wad hae thocht she had been gaein' to The Bothie; but gin she had been that, there wad hae been a cairriage to meet her,' said Crookit Caumill, the ostler.
The Bothie was the name facetiously given by Alexander, Baron Rothie, son of the Marquis of Boarshead, to a house he had built in the neighbourhood, chiefly for the accommodation of his bachelor friends from London during the shooting-season.
'Haud yer tongue, Caumill,' said the shoemaker. 'She's nae sic cattle, yon.'
'Haud up the bit bowat (stable-lantern), man, and lat Robert here see the direction upo' them. Maybe he'll mak' something o't. He's a fine scholar, ye ken,' said another of the bystanders.
The ostler held the lantern to the card upon one of the boxes, but Robert found only an M., followed by something not very definite, and a J., which might have been an I., Rothieden, Driftshire, Scotland.
As he was not immediate with his answer, Peter Lumley, one of the group, a lazy ne'er-do-weel, who had known better days, but never better manners, and was seldom quite drunk, and seldomer still quite sober, struck in with,
'Ye dinna ken a' thing yet, ye see, Robbie.'
From Sandy this would have been nothing but a good-humoured attempt at facetiousness. From Lumley it meant spite, because Robert's praise was in his ears.
'I dinna preten' to ken ae hair mair than ye do yersel', Mr. Lumley; and that's nae sayin' muckle, surely,' returned Robert, irritated at his tone more than at his words.
The bystanders laughed, and Lumley flew into a rage.
'Haud yer ill tongue, ye brat,' he said. 'Wha' are ye to mak' sic remarks upo' yer betters? A'body kens yer gran'father was naething but the blin' piper o' Portcloddie.'
This was news to Robert—probably false, considering the quarter whence it came. But his mother-wit did not forsake him.
'Weel, Mr. Lumley,' he answered, 'didna he pipe weel? Daur ye tell me 'at he didna pipe weel?—as weel's ye cud hae dune 't yersel', noo, Mr. Lumley?'
The laugh again rose at Lumley's expense, who was well known to have tried his hand at most things, and succeeded in nothing. Dooble Sanny was especially delighted.
'De'il hae ye for a de'il's brat! 'At I suld sweer!' was all Lumley's reply, as he sought to conceal his mortification by attempting to join in the laugh against himself. Robert seized the opportunity of turning away and entering the house.
'That ane's no to be droont or brunt aither,' said Lumley, as he disappeared.
'He'll no be hang't for closin' your mou', Mr. Lumley,' said the shoemaker.
Thereupon Lumley turned and followed Robert into the inn.
Robert had delivered his message to Miss Napier, who sat in an arm-chair by the fire, in a little comfortable parlour, held sacred by all about the house. She was paralytic, and unable to attend to her guests further than by giving orders when anything especial was referred to her decision. She was an old lady—nearly as old as Mrs. Falconer—and wore glasses, but they could not conceal the kindness of her kindly eyes. Probably from giving less heed to a systematic theology, she had nothing of that sternness which first struck a stranger on seeing Robert's grandmother. But then she did not know what it was to be contradicted; and if she had been married, and had had sons, perhaps a sternness not dissimilar might have shown itself in her nature.
'Noo ye maunna gang awa' till ye get something,' she said, after taking the receipt in request from a drawer within her reach, and laying it upon the table. But ere she could ring the bell which stood by her side, one of her servants came in.
'Please, mem,' she said, 'Miss Letty and Miss Lizzy's seein' efter the bonny leddy; and sae I maun come to you.'
'Is she a' that bonny, Meg?' asked her mistress.
'Na, na, she's nae sae fearsome bonny; but Miss Letty's unco ta'en wi' her, ye ken. An' we a' say as Miss Letty says i' this hoose. But that's no the pint. Mr. Lumley's here, seekin' a gill: is he to hae't?'
'Has he had eneuch already, do ye think, Meg?'
'I dinna ken aboot eneuch, mem; that's ill to mizzer; but I dinna think he's had ower muckle.'
'Weel, lat him tak' it. But dinna lat him sit doon.'
'Verra weel, mem,' said Meg, and departed.
'What gars Mr. Lumley say 'at my gran'father was the blin' piper o' Portcloddie? Can ye tell me, Miss Naper?' asked Robert.
'Whan said he that, Robert?'
'Jist as I cam in.'
Miss Napier rang the bell. Another maid appeared.
'Sen' Meg here direckly.'
Meg came, her eyes full of interrogation.
'Dinna gie Lumley a drap. Set him up to insult a young gentleman at my door-cheek! He s' no hae a drap here the nicht. He 's had ower muckle, Meg, already, an' ye oucht to hae seen that.'
''Deed, mem, he 's had mair than ower muckle, than; for there's anither gill ower the thrapple o' 'm. I div my best, mem, but, never tastin' mysel', I canna aye tell hoo muckle 's i' the wame o' a' body 'at comes in.'
'Ye're no fit for the place, Meg; that's a fac'.'
At this charge Meg took no offence, for she had been in the place for twenty years. And both mistress and maid laughed the moment they parted company.
'Wha's this 'at's come the nicht, Miss Naper, 'at they're sae ta'en wi'?' asked Robert.
'Atweel, I dinna ken yet. She's ower bonnie by a' accoonts to be gaein' about her lane (alone). It's a mercy the baron's no at hame. I wad hae to lock her up wi' the forks and spunes.'
'What for that?' asked Robert.
But Miss Napier vouchsafed no further explanation. She stuffed his pockets with sweet biscuits instead, dismissed him in haste, and rang the bell.
'Meg, whaur hae they putten the stranger-leddy?'
'She's no gaein' to bide at our hoose, mem.'
'What say ye, lass? She's never gaein' ower to Lucky Happit's, is she?'
'Ow na, mem. She's a leddy, ilka inch o' her. But she's some sib (relation) to the auld captain, and she's gaein' doon the street as sune's Caumill's ready to tak her bit boxes i' the barrow. But I doobt there'll be maist three barrowfu's o' them.'
'Atweel. Ye can gang.'CHAPTER IV. SHARGAR.
Robert went out into the thin drift, and again crossing the wide desolate-looking square, turned down an entry leading to a kind of court, which had once been inhabited by a well-to-do class of the townspeople, but had now fallen in estimation. Upon a stone at the door of what seemed an outhouse he discovered the object of his search.
'What are ye sittin' there for, Shargar?'
Shargar is a word of Gaelic origin, applied, with some sense of the ridiculous, to a thin, wasted, dried-up creature. In the present case it was the nickname by which the boy was known at school; and, indeed, where he was known at all.
'What are ye sittin' there for, Shargar? Did naebody offer to tak ye in?'
'Na, nane o' them. I think they maun be a' i' their beds. I'm most dreidfu' cauld.'
The fact was, that Shargar's character, whether by imputation from his mother, or derived from his own actions, was none of the best. The consequence was, that, although scarcely one of the neighbours would have allowed him to sit there all night, each was willing to wait yet a while, in the hope that somebody else's humanity would give in first, and save her from the necessity of offering him a seat by the fireside, and a share of the oatmeal porridge which probably would be scanty enough for her own household. For it must be borne in mind that all the houses in the place were occupied by poor people, with whom the one virtue, Charity, was, in a measure, at home, and amidst many sins, cardinal and other, managed to live in even some degree of comfort.
'Get up, than, Shargar, ye lazy beggar! Or are ye frozen to the door-stane? I s' awa' for a kettle o' bilin' water to lowse ye.'
'Na, na, Bob. I'm no stucken. I'm only some stiff wi' the cauld; for wow, but I am cauld!' said Shargar, rising with difficulty. 'Gie 's a haud o' yer han', Bob.'
Robert gave him his hand, and Shargar was straightway upon his feet.
'Come awa' noo, as fest and as quaiet 's ye can.'
'What are ye gaein' to du wi' me, Bob?'
'What's that to you, Shargar?'
'Naything. Only I wad like to ken.'
'Hae patience, and ye will ken. Only mind ye do as I tell ye, and dinna speik a word.'
Shargar followed in silence.
On the way Robert remembered that Miss Napier had not, after all, given him the receipt for which his grandmother had sent him. So he returned to The Boar's Head, and, while he went in, left Shargar in the archway, to shiver, and try in vain to warm his hands by the alternate plans of slapping them on the opposite arms, and hiding them under them.
When Robert came out, he saw a man talking to him under the lamp. The moment his eyes fell upon the two, he was struck by a resemblance between them. Shargar was right under the lamp, the man to the side of it, so that Shargar was shadowed by its frame, and the man was in its full light. The latter turned away, and passing Robert, went into the inn.
'Wha's that?' asked Robert.
'I dinna ken,' answered Shargar. 'He spak to me or ever I kent he was there, and garred my hert gie sic a loup 'at it maist fell into my breeks.'
'And what said he to ye?'
'He said was the deevil at my lug, that I did naething but caw my han's to bits upo' my shoothers.'
'And what said ye to that?'
'I said I wissed he was, for he wad aiblins hae some spare heat aboot him, an' I hadna freely (quite) eneuch.'
'Weel dune, Shargar! What said he to that?'
'He leuch, and speirt gin I wad list, and gae me a shillin'.'
'Ye didna tak it, Shargar?' asked Robert in some alarm.
'Ay did I. Catch me no taking a shillin'!'
'But they'll haud ye till 't.'
'Na, na. I'm ower shochlin' (in-kneed) for a sodger. But that man was nae sodger.'
'And what mair said he?'
'He speirt what I wad do wi' the shillin'.'
'And what said ye?'
'Ow! syne ye cam' oot, and he gaed awa'.'
'And ye dinna ken wha it was?' repeated Robert.
'It was some like my brither, Lord Sandy; but I dinna ken,' said Shargar.
By this time they had arrived at Yule the baker's shop.
'Bide ye here,' said Robert, who happened to possess a few coppers, 'till I gang into Eel's.'
Shargar stood again and shivered at the door, till Robert came out with a penny loaf in one hand, and a twopenny loaf in the other.
'Gie's a bit, Bob,' said Shargar. 'I'm as hungry as I am cauld.'
'Bide ye still,' returned Robert. 'There's a time for a' thing, and your time 's no come to forgather wi' this loaf yet. Does na it smell fine? It's new frae the bakehoose no ten minutes ago. I ken by the fin' (feel) o' 't.'
'Lat me fin' 't,' said Shargar, stretching out one hand, and feeling his shilling with the other.
'Na. Yer han's canna be clean. And fowk suld aye eat clean, whether they gang clean or no.'
'I'll awa' in an' buy ane oot o' my ain shillin',' said Shargar, in a tone of resolute eagerness.
'Ye'll do naething o' the kin',' returned Robert, darting his hand at his collar. 'Gie me the shillin'. Ye'll want it a' or lang.'
Shargar yielded the coin and slunk behind, while Robert again led the way till they came to his grandmother's door.
'Gang to the ga'le o' the hoose there, Shargar, and jist keek roon' the neuk at me; and gin I whustle upo' ye, come up as quaiet 's ye can. Gin I dinna, bide till I come to ye.'
Robert opened the door cautiously. It was never locked except at night, or when Betty had gone to the well for water, or to the butcher's or baker's, or the prayer-meeting, upon which occasions she put the key in her pocket, and left her mistress a prisoner. He looked first to the right, along the passage, and saw that his grandmother's door was shut; then across the passage to the left, and saw that the kitchen door was likewise shut, because of the cold, for its normal position was against the wall. Thereupon, closing the door, but keeping the handle in his hand, and the bolt drawn back, he turned to the street and whistled soft and low. Shargar had, in a moment, dragged his heavy feet, ready to part company with their shoes at any instant, to Robert's side. He bent his ear to Robert's whisper.
'Gang in there, and creep like a moose to the fit o' the stair. I maun close the door ahin' 's,' said he, opening the door as he spoke.
'I'm fleyt (frightened), Robert.'
'Dinna be a fule. Grannie winna bite aff yer heid. She had ane till her denner, the day, an' it was ill sung (singed).'
'What ane o'?'
'A sheep's heid, ye gowk (fool). Gang in direckly.'
Shargar persisted no longer, but, taking about four steps a minute, slunk past the kitchen like a thief—not so carefully, however, but that one of his soles yet looser than the other gave one clap upon the flagged passage, when Betty straightway stood in the kitchen door, a fierce picture in a deal frame. By this time Robert had closed the outer door, and was following at Shargar's heels.
'What's this?' she cried, but not so loud as to reach the ears of Mrs. Falconer; for, with true Scotch foresight, she would not willingly call in another power before the situation clearly demanded it. 'Whaur's Shargar gaein' that gait?'
'Wi' me. Dinna ye see me wi' him? I'm nae a thief, nor yet's Shargar.'
'There may be twa opingons upo' that, Robert. I s' jist awa' benn to the mistress. I s' hae nae sic doin's i' my hoose.'
'It's nae your hoose, Betty. Dinna lee.'
'Weel, I s' hae nae sic things gang by my kitchie door. There, Robert! what 'll ye mak' o' that? There's nae offence, there, I houp, gin it suldna be a'thegither my ain hoose. Tak Shargar oot o' that, or I s' awa' benn the hoose, as I tell ye.'
Meantime Shargar was standing on the stones, looking like a terrified white rabbit, and shaking from head to foot with cold and fright combined.
'I'll tak him oot o' this, but it's up the stair, Betty. An' gin ye gang benn the hoose aboot it, I sweir to ye, as sure 's death, I'll gang doon to Muckledrum upo' Setterday i' the efternune.'
'Gang awa' wi' yer havers. Only gin the mistress speirs onything aboot it, what am I to say?'
'Bide till she speirs. Auld Spunkie says, "Ready-made answers are aye to seek." And I say, Betty, hae ye a cauld pitawta (potato)?'
'I'll luik and see. Wadna ye like it het up?'
'Ow ay, gin ye binna lang aboot it.'
Suddenly a bell rang, shrill and peremptory, right above Shargar's head, causing in him a responsive increase of trembling.
'Haud oot o' my gait. There's the mistress's bell,' said Betty.
'Jist bide till we're roon' the neuk and on to the stair,' said Robert, now leading the way.
Betty watched them safe round the corner before she made for the parlour, little thinking to what she had become an unwilling accomplice, for she never imagined that more than an evening's visit was intended by Shargar, which in itself seemed to her strange and improper enough even for such an eccentric boy as Robert to encourage.
Shargar followed in mortal terror, for, like Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress, he had no armour to his back. Once round the corner, two strides of three steps each took them to the top of the first stair, Shargar knocking his head in the darkness against the never-opened door. Again three strides brought them to the top of the second flight; and turning once more, still to the right, Robert led Shargar up the few steps into the higher of the two garrets.
Here there was just glimmer enough from the sky to discover the hollow of a close bedstead, built in under the sloping roof, which served it for a tester, while the two ends and most of the front were boarded up to the roof. This bedstead fortunately was not so bare as the one in the other room, although it had not been used for many years, for an old mattress covered the boards with which it was bottomed.
'Gang in there, Shargar. Ye'll be warmer there than upo' the door-step ony gait. Pit aff yer shune.'
Shargar obeyed, full of delight at finding himself in such good quarters. Robert went to a forsaken press in the room, and brought out an ancient cloak of tartan, of the same form as what is now called an Inverness cape, a blue dress-coat, with plain gilt buttons, which shone even now in the all but darkness, and several other garments, amongst them a kilt, and heaped them over Shargar as he lay on the mattress. He then handed him the twopenny and the penny loaves, which were all his stock had reached to the purchase of, and left him, saying,—
'I maun awa' to my tay, Shargar. I'll fess ye a cauld tawtie het again, gin Betty has ony. Lie still, and whatever ye do, dinna come oot o' that.'
The last injunction was entirely unnecessary.
'Eh, Bob, I'm jist in haven!' said the poor creature, for his skin began to feel the precious possibility of reviving warmth in the distance.
Now that he had gained a new burrow, the human animal soon recovered from his fears as well. It seemed to him, in the novelty of the place, that he had made so many doublings to reach it, that there could be no danger of even the mistress of the house finding him out, for she could hardly be supposed to look after such a remote corner of her dominions. And then he was boxed in with the bed, and covered with no end of warm garments, while the friendly darkness closed him and his shelter all round. Except the faintest blue gleam from one of the panes in the roof, there was soon no hint of light anywhere; and this was only sufficient to make the darkness visible, and thus add artistic effect to the operation of it upon Shargar's imagination—a faculty certainly uneducated in Shargar, but far, very far from being therefore non-existent. It was, indeed, actively operative, although, like that of many a fine lady and gentleman, only in relation to such primary questions as: 'What shall we eat? And what shall we drink? And wherewithal shall we be clothed?' But as he lay and devoured the new 'white breid,' his satisfaction—the bare delight of his animal existence—reached a pitch such as even this imagination, stinted with poverty, and frost-bitten with maternal oppression, had never conceived possible. The power of enjoying the present without anticipation of the future or regard of the past, is the especial privilege of the animal nature, and of the human nature in proportion as it has not been developed beyond the animal. Herein lies the happiness of cab horses and of tramps: to them the gift of forgetfulness is of worth inestimable. Shargar's heaven was for the present gained.CHAPTER V. THE SYMPOSIUM.
Robert had scarcely turned out of the square on his way to find Shargar, when a horseman entered it. His horse and he were both apparently black on one side and gray on the other, from the snow-drift settling to windward. The animal looked tired, but the rider sat as easy as if he were riding to cover. The reins hung loose, and the horse went in a straight line for The Boar's Head, stopping under the archway only when his master drew bridle at the door of the inn.
At that moment Miss Letty was standing at the back of Miss Napier's chair, leaning her arms upon it as she talked to her. This was her way of resting as often as occasion arose for a chat with her elder sister. Miss Letty's hair was gathered in a great knot at the top of her head, and little ringlets hung like tendrils down the sides of her face, the benevolence of which was less immediately striking than that of her sister's, because of the constant play of humour upon it, especially about the mouth. If a spirit of satire could be supposed converted into something Christian by an infusion of the tenderest loving-kindness and humanity, remaining still recognizable notwithstanding that all its bitterness was gone, such was the expression of Miss Letty's mouth, It was always half puckered as if in resistance to a comic smile, which showed itself at the windows of the keen gray eyes, however the mouth might be able to keep it within doors. She was neatly dressed in black silk, with a lace collar. Her hands were small and white.
The moment the traveller stopped at the door, Miss Napier started.
'Letty,' she said, 'wha's that? I could amaist sweir to Black Geordie's fit.'
'A' four o' them, I think,' returned Miss Letty, as the horse, notwithstanding, or perhaps in consequence of his fatigue, began to paw and move about on the stones impatiently.
The rider had not yet spoken.
'He'll be efter some o' 's deevil-ma'-care sculduddery. But jist rin to the door, Letty, or Lizzy 'll be there afore ye, and maybe she wadna be ower ceevil. What can he be efter noo?'
'What wad the grew (grayhound) be efter but maukin (hare)?' returned Miss Letty.
'Hoot! nonsense! He kens naething aboot her. Gang to the door, lassie.'
Miss Letty obeyed.
'Wha's there?' she asked, somewhat sharply, as she opened it, 'that neither chaps (knocks) nor ca's?—Preserve 's a'! is't you, my lord?'
'Hoo ken ye me, Miss Letty withoot seein' my face?'
'A'body at The Boar's Heid kens Black Geordie as weel 's yer lordship's ain sel'. But whaur comes yer lordship frae in sic a nicht as this?'
'From Russia. Never dismounted between Moscow and Aberdeen. The ice is bearing to-night.'
And the baron laughed inside the upturned collar of his cloak, for he knew that strangely-exaggerated stories were current about his feats in the saddle.
'That's a lang ride, my lord, and a sliddery. And what's yer lordship's wull?'
'Muckle ye care aboot my lordship to stand jawin' there in a night like this! Is nobody going to take my horse?'
'I beg yer lordship's pardon. Caumill!—Yer lordship never said ye wanted yer lordship's horse ta'en. I thocht ye micht be gaein' on to The Bothie.—Tak' Black Geordie here, Caumill.—Come in to the parlour, my lord.'
'How d'ye do, Miss Naper?' said Lord Rothie, as he entered the room. 'Here's this jade of a sister of yours asking me why I don't go home to The Bothie, when I choose to stop and water here.'
'What'll ye tak', my lord?—Letty, fess the brandy.'
'Oh! damn your brandy! Bring me a gill of good Glendronach.'
'Rin, Letty. His lordship's cauld.—I canna rise to offer ye the airm-cheir, my lord.'
'I can get one for myself, thank heaven!'
'Lang may yer lordship return sic thanks.'
'For I'm only new begun, ye think, Miss Naper. Well, I don't often trouble heaven with my affairs. By Jove! I ought to be heard when I do.'
'Nae doobt ye will, my lord, whan ye seek onything that's fit to be gien ye.'
'True. Heaven's gifts are seldom much worth the asking.'
'Haud yer tongue, my lord, and dinna bring doon a judgment upo' my hoose, for it wad be missed oot o' Rothieden.'
'You're right there, Miss Naper. And here comes the whisky to stop my mouth.'
The Baron of Rothie sat for a few minutes with his feet on the fender before Miss Letty's blazing fire, without speaking, while he sipped the whisky neat from a wine-glass. He was a man about the middle height, rather full-figured, muscular and active, with a small head, and an eye whose brightness had not yet been dimmed by the sensuality which might be read in the condition rather than frame of his countenance. But while he spoke so pleasantly to the Miss Napiers, and his forehead spread broad and smooth over the twinkle of his hazel eye, there was a sharp curve on each side of his upper lip, half-way between the corner and the middle, which reminded one of the same curves in the lip of his ancestral boar's head, where it was lifted up by the protruding tusks. These curves disappeared, of course, when he smiled, and his smile, being a lord's, was generally pronounced irresistible. He was good-natured, and nowise inclined to stand upon his rank, so long as he had his own way.
'Any customers by the mail to-night, Miss Naper?' he asked, in a careless tone.
'Naebody partic'lar, my lord.'
'I thought ye never let anybody in that wasn't particularly particular. No foot-passengers—eh?'
'Hoot, my lord! that's twa year ago. Gin I had jaloosed him to be a fren' o' yer lordship's, forby bein' a lord himsel', ye ken as weel 's I du that I wadna hae sent him ower the gait to Luckie Happit's, whaur he wadna even be ower sure o' gettin' clean sheets. But gin lords an' lords' sons will walk afit like ither fowk, wha's to ken them frae ither fowk?'
'Well, Miss Naper, he was no lord at all. He was nothing but a factor-body doon frae Glenbucket.'
'There was sma' hairm dune than, my lord. I'm glaid to hear 't. But what'll yer lordship hae to yer supper?'
'I would like a dish o' your chits and nears (sweetbreads and kidneys).'
'Noo, think o' that!' returned the landlady, laughing. 'You great fowk wad hae the verra coorse o' natur' turned upside doon to shuit yersels. Wha ever heard o' caure (calves) at this time o' the year?'
'Well, anything you like. Who was it came by the mail, did you say?'
'I said naebody partic'lar, my lord.'
'Well, I'll just go and have a look at Black Geordie.'
'Verra weel, my lord.—Letty, rin an' luik efter him; and as sune 's he's roon' the neuk, tell Lizzie no to say a word aboot the leddy. As sure 's deith he's efter her. Whaur cud he hae heard tell o' her?'
Lord Rothie came, a moment after, sauntering into the bar-parlour, where Lizzie, the third Miss Napier, a red-haired, round-eyed, white-toothed woman of forty, was making entries in a book.
'She's a bonnie lassie that, that came in the coach to-night, they say, Miss Lizzie.'
'As ugly 's sin, my lord,' answered Lizzie.
'I hae seen some sin 'at was nane sae ugly, Miss Lizzie.'
'She wad hae clean scunnert (disgusted) ye, my lord. It's a mercy ye didna see her.'
'If she be as ugly as all that, I would just like to see her.'
Miss Lizzie saw she had gone too far.
'Ow, deed! gin yer lordship wants to see her, ye may see her at yer wull. I s' gang and tell her.'
And she rose as if to go.
'No, no. Nothing of the sort, Miss Lizzie. Only I heard that she was bonnie, and I wanted to see her. You know I like to look at a pretty girl.'
'That's ower weel kent, my lord.'
'Well, there's no harm in that, Miss Lizzie.'
'There's no harm in that, my lord, though yer lordship says 't.'
The facts were that his lordship had been to the county-town, some forty miles off, and Black Geordie had been sent to Hillknow to meet him; for in any weather that would let him sit, he preferred horseback to every other mode of travelling, though he seldom would be followed by a groom. He had posted to Hillknow, and had dined with a friend at the inn. The coach stopping to change horses, he had caught a glimpse of a pretty face, as he thought, from its window, and had hoped to overtake the coach before it reached Rothieden. But stopping to drink another bottle, he had failed; and it was on the merest chance of seeing that pretty face that he stopped at The Boar's Head. In all probability, had the Marquis seen the lady, he would not have thought her at all such a beauty as she appeared in the eyes of Dooble Sanny; nor, I venture to think, had he thought as the shoemaker did, would he yet have dared to address her in other than the words of such respect as he could still feel in the presence of that which was more noble than himself.
Whether or not on his visit to the stable he found anything amiss with Black Geordie, I cannot tell, but he now begged Miss Lizzie to have a bedroom prepared for him.
It happened to be the evening of Friday, one devoted by some of the townspeople to a symposium. To this, knowing that the talk will throw a glimmer on several matters, I will now introduce my reader, as a spectator through the reversed telescope of my history.
A few of the more influential of the inhabitants had grown, rather than formed themselves, into a kind of club, which met weekly at The Boar's Head. Although they had no exclusive right to the room in which they sat, they generally managed to retain exclusive possession of it; for if any supposed objectionable person entered, they always got rid of him, sometimes without his being aware of how they had contrived to make him so uncomfortable. They began to gather about seven o'clock, when it was expected that boiling water would be in readiness for the compound generally called toddy, sometimes punch. As soon as six were assembled, one was always voted into the chair.
On the present occasion, Mr. Innes, the school-master, was unanimously elected to that honour. He was a hard-featured, sententious, snuffy individual, of some learning, and great respectability.
I omit the political talk with which their intercommunications began; for however interesting at the time is the scaffolding by which existing institutions arise, the poles and beams when gathered again in the builder's yard are scarcely a subject for the artist.
The first to lead the way towards matters of nearer personality was William MacGregor, the linen manufacturer, a man who possessed a score of hand-looms or so—half of which, from the advance of cotton and the decline of linen-wear, now stood idle—but who had already a sufficient deposit in the hands of Mr. Thomson the banker—agent, that is, for the county-bank—to secure him against any necessity for taking to cotton shirts himself, which were an abomination and offence unpardonable in his eyes.
'Can ye tell me, Mr. Cocker,' he said, 'what mak's Sandy, Lord Rothie, or Wrathy, or what suld he be ca'd?—tak' to The Bothie at a time like this, whan there's neither huntin', nor fishin', nor shutin', nor onything o' the kin' aboot han' to be playacks till him, the bonnie bairn—'cep' it be otters an' sic like?'
William was a shrunken old man, with white whiskers and a black wig, a keen black eye, always in search of the ludicrous in other people, and a mouth ever on the move, as if masticating something comical.
'You know just as well as I do,' answered Mr. Cocker, the Marquis of Boarshead's factor for the surrounding estate. 'He never was in the way of giving a reason for anything, least of all for his own movements.'
'Somebody was sayin' to me,' resumed MacGregor, who, in all probability, invented the story at the moment, 'that the prince took him kissin' ane o' his servan' lasses, and kickit him oot o' Carlton Hoose into the street, and he canna win' ower the disgrace o' 't.'
''Deed for the kissin',' said Mr. Thomson, a portly, comfortable-looking man, 'that's neither here nor there, though it micht hae been a duchess or twa; but for the kickin', my word! but Lord Sandy was mair likly to kick oot the prince. Do ye min' hoo he did whan the Markis taxed him wi'—?'
'Haud a quaiet sough,' interposed Mr. Cruickshank, the solicitor; 'there's a drap i' the hoose.'
This was a phrase well understood by the company, indicating the presence of some one unknown, or unfit to be trusted.
As he spoke he looked towards the farther end of the room, which lay in obscurity; for it was a large room, lighted only by the four candles on the table at which the company sat.
'Whaur, Mr. Cruickshank?' asked the dominie in a whisper.
'There,' answered Sampson Peddie, the bookseller, who seized the opportunity of saying something, and pointed furtively where the solicitor had only looked.
A dim figure was descried at a table in the farthest corner of the room, and they proceeded to carry out the plan they generally adopted to get rid of a stranger.
'Ye made use o' a curious auld Scots phrase this moment, Mr. Curshank: can ye explain hoo it comes to beir the meanin' that it's weel kent to beir?' said the manufacturer.
'Not I, Mr. MacGregor,' answered the solicitor. 'I'm no philologist or antiquarian. Ask the chairman.'
'Gentlemen,' responded Mr. Innes, taking a huge pinch of snuff after the word, and then, passing the box to Mr. Cocker, a sip from his glass before he went on: 'the phrase, gentlemen, "a drap i' the hoose," no doobt refers to an undesirable presence, for ye're weel awaur that it's a most unpleasin' discovery, in winter especially, to find a drop o' water hangin' from yer ceiling; a something, in short, whaur it has no business to be, and is not accordingly looked for, or prepared against.'
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