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   Chapter 15 No.15

The Wizard's Son, Vol. 1(of 3) By Margaret Oliphant Characters: 35836

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

It had rained all night, and the morning was wet and cold; the water dull like lead, the sky a mass of clouds; all the bare branches of the trees dropping limp in the humid air. Mrs. Forrester, on further thought, had not permitted Oona to write even the smallest of her "bit notties" to Lord Erradeen; for, though she lived on an isle in Loch Houran, this lady flattered herself that she knew the world. She indited a little epistle of her own, in which she begged him to come and see her upon what she might call a matter of business-a thing that concerned his own affairs. This was carried by Hamish, but it received no reply. Lord Erradeen was out. Where could he be out on a Sabbath day at night, in a place where there were no dinner parties, nor any club, nor the temptations of a town, but just a lonely country place? Nor was there any answer in the morning, which was more wonderful still. It was ill-bred, Mrs. Forrester thought, and she was more than ever glad that her daughter had not been involved in the matter. But Hamish had information which was not communicated to the drawing-room, and over which Mysie and he laid their heads together in the kitchen. The poor young gentleman was off his head altogether, the servants said. The door was just left open, and he came in, nobody knew when. He could not bear that anybody should say a word to him. There had been thoughts among them of sending for his mother, and old Symington showed to Hamish a telegram prepared for Mr. Milnathort, acquainting him with the state of affairs, which he had not yet ventured to send-"For he will come to himself soon or syne," the old man said; "it's just the weird of the Me'vens that is upon him." Symington was indifferent to the fate of the poor crofters. He said "the factor will ken what to do." He was not a Loch Houran man.

On the Monday, however, the feeling of all the little population on the isle ran very high. The wet morning, the leaden loch, the low-lying clouds oppressed the mental atmosphere, and the thought of the poor people turned out of their houses in the rain, increased the misery of the situation in a way scarcely to be expected in the west, where it is supposed to rain for ever. At eleven o'clock Oona appeared in her thickest ulster and her strongest boots.

"I am going up to see old Jenny," she said, with a little air of determination.

"My dear, you will be just wet through; and are you sure your boots are thick enough? You will come back to me with a heavy cold, and then what shall we all do? But take some tea and sugar in your basket, Oona," said her mother. She went with the girl to the door in spite of these half-objections, which did not mean anything. "And a bottle of my ginger cordial might not be amiss-they all like it, poor bodies! And, Oona, see, my dear, here are two pound notes. It's all I have of change, and it's more than I can afford; but if it comes to the worst--But surely, surely John Shaw, that is a very decent man, and comes of a good family, will have found the means to do something!"

The kind lady stood at the door indifferent to the wet which every breath of air shook from the glistening branches. It had ceased to rain, and in the west there was a pale clearness, which made the leaden loch more chilly still, yet was a sign of amelioration. Mrs. Forrester wrung her hands, and cast one look at the glistening woods of Auchnasheen, and another at the dark mass, on the edge of the water, of Kinloch Houran. She did not know whether to be angry with Lord Erradeen for being so ill-bred, or to compassionate him for the eclipse which he had sustained. But, after all, he was a very secondary object in her mind in comparison with Oona, whose course she watched in the boat, drawing a long line across the leaden surface of the water. She was just like the dove out of the ark, Mrs. Forrester thought.

The little hamlet of Truach-Glas was at some distance from the loch. Oona walked briskly along the coach road for two miles or thereabouts, then turned up to the left on a road which narrowed as it ascended till it became little more than a cart track, with a footway at the side. In the broader valley below a substantial farmhouse, with a few outlying cottages, was the only point of habitation, and on either side of the road a few cultivated fields, chiefly of turnips and potatoes, were all that broke the stretches of pasture, extending to the left as high as grass would grow, up the dark slopes of the hills. But the smaller glen on the right had a more varied and lively appearance, and was broken into small fields bearing signs of cultivation tolerably high up, some of them still yellow with the stubble of the late harvest, the poor little crop of oats or barley which never hoped to ripen before October, if then. A mountain stream, which was scarcely a thread of water in the summer, now leaped fiercely enough, turbid and swollen, from rock to rock in its rapid descent. The houses clustered on a little tableland at some height above the road, where a few gnarled hawthorns, rowans, and birches were growing. They were poor enough to have disgusted any social reformer, or political economist; grey growths of rough stones, which might have come together by chance, so little shape was there in the bulging walls. Only a few of them had even the rough chimney at one end wattled with ropes of straw, which showed an advanced civilisation. The others had nothing but the hole in the roof, which is the first and homeliest expedient of primitive ventilation. It might have been reasonably asked what charm these hovels could have to any one to make them worth struggling for. But reason is not lord of all.

There was no appearance of excitement about the place when Oona, walking quickly, and a little out of breath, reached the foremost houses. The men and boys were out about their work, up the hill, or down the water, in the occupations of the day; and indeed there were but few men, at any time, about the place. Three out of the half-dozen houses were tenanted by "widow women," one with boys who cultivated her little holding, one who kept going with the assistance of a hired lad, while the third lived upon her cow, which the neighbours helped her to take care of. The chief house of the community, and the only one which bore something of a comfortable aspect, was that of Duncan Fraser, who had the largest allotment of land, and who, though he had fallen back so far with his rent as to put himself in the power of the law, was one of the class which as peasant proprietors are thought to be the strength of France. If the land had been his own he would have found existence very possible under the hard and stern conditions which were natural to him, and probably would have brought up for the Church, Robbie his eldest boy, who had got all the parish school could give him, and was still dreaming, as he cut the peats or hoed the potatoes, of Glasgow College and the world. Of the other two houses, one was occupied by an old pair whose children were out in the world, and who managed, by the contributions of distant sons and daughters, to pay their rent. The last was in the possession of a "weirdless" wight, who loved whisky better than home or holding, and whose wife and children toiled through as best they could the labour of their few fields.

There were about twenty children in the six houses, all ruddy, weatherbeaten, flaxen-haired, the girls tied up about their shoulders in little tartan shawls, and very bare about their legs; the boys in every kind of quaint garments, little bags of trousers, cobbled out of bigger garments by workwomen more frugal than artistic. The rent had failed, for how was money to be had on these levels? but the porridge had never altogether failed. A few little ones were playing "about the doors" in a happy superiority to all prejudices on the subject of mud and puddles. One woman was washing her clothes at her open door. Old Jenny, whom Oona had come to see, was out upon her doorstep, gazing down the glen to watch the footsteps of her precious "coo," which a lass of ten with streaming hair was leading out to get a mouthful of wet grass. Jenny's mind was always in a flutter lest something should happen to the cow.

"Ye would pass her by upon the road, Miss Oona," the old woman said, "and how would ye think she was looking? To get meat to her, it's just a' my thought; but I canna think she will be none the worse for a bit mouthfu' on the hill."

"But, Jenny, have you nothing to think of but the cow? It will not be true then, that the time of grace is over, and that the sheriff's officers are coming to turn you all out?"

"The sheriff's officers!" cried Jenny. She took the edge of her apron in her hand and drew the hem slowly through her fingers, which was a sign of perplexity: but yet she was quite composed. "Na, na, Miss Oona, they'll never turn us out. What wad I be thinking about but the coo? She's my breadwinner and a' my family. Hoots no, they'll never turn us out."

"But Mr. Shaw was in great trouble yesterday. He said this was the last day--"

"I never fash'd my thoom about it," said Jenny. "The last day! It's maybe the last, or the first, I would never be taking no notice. For the factor, he's our great friend, and he would not be letting them do it. No, no; it would but be his jokes," the old woman said.

Was it his jokes? This was the second time the idea had been presented to her; but Oona remembered the factor's serious face.

"You all seem very quiet here," she said; "not as if any trouble was coming. But has there not been trouble, Jenny, about your rent or something?"

"Muckle trouble," said Jenny; "they were to have taken the coo. What would have become of me if they had ta'en the coo? Duncan, they have ta'en his, puir lad. To see it go down the brae was enough to break your heart. But John Shaw he's a kind man; he would not be letting them meddle with us. He just said 'It's a lone woman; my lord can do without it better than the old wife can do without it,' he said. He's a kind man, and so my bonnie beast was saved. I was wae for Duncan; but still, Miss Oona, things is no desperate so lang as you keep safe your ain coo."

"That is true," said Oona with a little laugh. There must, she thought, be some mistake, or else Mr. Shaw had found Lord Erradeen, and without the help of any influence had moved him to pity the cotters. Under this consolation she got out her tea and sugar, and other trifles which had been put into the basket. It was a basket that was well known in the neighbourhood, and had conveyed many a little dainty in time of need. Jenny was grateful for the little packets of tea and sugar which she took more or less as a right, but looked with a curious eye at the "ginger cordial" for which Mrs. Forrester was famous. It was not a wicked thing like whisky, no, no: but it warmed ye on a cold day. Jenny would not have objected to a drop. While she eyed it there became audible far off voices down the glen, and sounds as of several people approaching, sounds very unusual in this remote corner of the world. Jenny forgot the ginger cordial and Oona ran to the door to see what it was, and the woman who had been washing paused in her work, and old Nancy Robertson, she whose rent was paid, and who had no need to fear any sheriff's officers, came out to her door. Even the children stopped in their game.

The voices were still far off, down upon the road, upon which there was a group of men, scarcely distinguishable at this distance. Simon Fraser's wife, she who had been washing, called out that it was Duncan talking to the factor; but who were those other men? A sense of approaching trouble came upon the women. Nelly Fraser wiped the soapsuds from her arms, and wrung her hands still fresh from her tub. She was always prepared for evil, as is natural to a woman with a "weirdless" husband. Old Jenny, for her part, thought at once of the coo. She flew, as well as her old legs would carry her, to the nearest knoll, and shrieked to the fair-haired little lass who was slowly following that cherished animal to bring Brockie back. "Bring her back, ye silly thing. Will ye no be seeing-but I mauna say that," she added in an undertone. "Bring back the coo! Bring her back! Jessie, my lamb, bring back the coo." What with old Jenny shrieking, and the voices in the distance, and something magnetic and charged with disorder in the air, people began to appear from all the houses. One of the widow's sons, a red and hairy lad, came running in, in his heavy boots, from the field where he was working. Duncan Fraser's daughter set down a basket of peat which she was carrying in, and called her mother to the door. "There's my father with the factor and twa-three strange men," said the girl, "and oh, what will they be wanting here?" Thus the women and children looked on with growing terror, helpless before the approach of fate, as they might have done two centuries before, when the invaders were rapine and murder, instead of calm authority and law.

When Oona made her appearance half an hour before everything had been unquestioning tranquillity and peace. Now, without a word said, all was alarm. The poor people did not know what was going to happen, but they felt that something was going to happen. They had been living on a volcano, easily, quietly, without thinking much of it. But now the fire was about to blaze forth. Through the minds of those that were mothers there ran a calculation as swift as light. "What will we do with the bairns? what will we do with Granny? and the bits of plenishing?" they said to each other. The younger ones were half pleased with the excitement, not knowing what it was. Meantime Duncan and Mr. Shaw came together up the road, the poor man arguing with great animation and earnestness, the factor listening with a troubled countenance and sometimes shaking his head. Behind them followed the servants of the law, those uncomfortable officials to whom the odium of their occupation clings, though it is no fault of theirs.

"No, Mr. Shaw, we canna pay. You know that as well as I do; but oh, sir, give us a little time. Would you turn the weans out on the hill and the auld folk? What would I care if it was just to me? But think upon the wake creatures-my auld mother that is eighty, and the bairns. If my lord will not let us off there's some of the other gentry that are kind and will lend us a helping hand. Oh, give us time! My lord that is young and so well off, he canna surely understand. What is it to him? and to us it's life and death."

"Duncan, my man," said the factor, "you are just breaking my heart. I know all that as well as you; but what can I do? It is the last day, and we have to act or we just make fools of ourselves. My lord might have stopped it, but he has not seen fit. For God's sake say no more for I cannot do it. Ye just break my heart!"

By this time the women were within hearing, and stood listening with wistful faces, turning from one to another. When he paused they struck in together, moving towards him eagerly.

"Oh, Mr. Shaw, you've always been our friend," cried Duncan's wife; "you canna mean that you've come to turn us out to the hill, with all the little ones and granny?"

"Oh, sir!" cried the other, "have pity upon me that has nae prop nor help but just a weirdless man."

"Me, I have nae man ava, but just thae hands to travail for my bairns," said a third.

And then there came a shriller tone of indignation. "The young lord, he'll just get a curse-he'll get no blessing."

The factor made a deprecating gesture with his hands "I can do nothing, I can do nothing," he said. "Take your bairns down the glen to my housekeeper Marg'ret; take them down to the town, the rest of ye-they shall not want. Whatever I can do, I'll do. But for God's sake do not stop us with your wailin', for it has to be done; it is no fault of mine."

This appeal touched one of the sufferers at least with a movement of fierce irony. Duncan uttered a short, sharp laugh, which rung strangely into the air, so full of passion. "Haud your tongues, women," he cried, "and no vex Mr. Shaw; you're hurting his feelings," with a tone impossible to describe, in which wrath and misery and keen indignation and ridicule contended for the mastery. He was the only man in the desolate group. He drew a few steps apart and folded his arms upon his breast, retiring in that pride of despair which a cotter ruined may experience no less than a king vanquished, from further struggle or complaint. The women neither understood nor noted the finer meaning in his words. They had but one thought, the misery before them. They crowded round the factor, all speaking in one breath, grasping his arm to call his attention-almost mobbing him with distracted appeals, with the wild natural eloquence of their waving hands and straining eyes.

Meanwhile there were other elements, some comic enough, in the curious circle round. Old Nancy Robertson had not left the doorstep where she stood keenly watching in the composure and superiority of one whom nobody could touch, who had paid her rent, and was above the world. It was scarcely possible not to be a little complacent in the superiority of her circumstances, or to refrain from criticising the unseemly excitement of the others. She had her spectacles on her nose, and her head projected, and she thought they were all like play-actors with their gesticulations and cries. "I wouldna be skreighin' like that-no me," she said. Round about the fringe of children gaped and gazed, some stolid with amaze, some pale in a vague sympathetic misery, none of them quite without a certain enjoyment of this extraordinary episode and stimulation of excitement. And old Jenny, awakened to no alarm about her cottage, st

ill stood upon her knoll, with her whole soul intent upon the fortunes of Brockie, who had met the sheriff's officers in full career. The attempts of her little guardian to turn the cow back from her whiff of pasture had only succeeded in calling the special attention of these invaders. They stopped short, and one of them taking a piece of rope from his pocket secured it round the neck of the frightened animal, who stood something like a woman in a similar case, looking to left and to right, not knowing in her confusion which way to bolt, though the intention was evident in her terrified eyes. At this Jenny gave a shriek of mingled rage and terror, which in its superior force and concentrated passion rang through all the other sounds, silencing for the moment even the wailing of the women-and flung herself into the midst of the struggle. She was a dry, little, withered old woman, nimble and light, and ran like a hare or rabbit down the rough road without a pause or stumble.

"My coo!" cried Jenny, "ye sallna tak' her; ye sall tak' my heart's blood first. My coo! Miss Oona, Miss Oona, will you just be standing by, like nothing at all, and letting them tak' my coo? G'way, ye robbers," Jenny shrieked, flinging one arm about the neck of the alarmed brute, while she pushed away its captor with the other. Her arm was still vigorous, though she was old. The man stumbled and lost his hold of the rope; the cow, liberated, tossed head and tail into the air and flung off to the hill-side like a deer. The shock threw Jenny down and stunned her. This made a little diversion in the dismal scene above.

And now it became evident that whatever was to be done must be done, expression being exhausted on the part of the victims, who stood about in a blank of overwrought feeling awaiting the next move. The factor made a sign with his hand, and sat down upon a ledge of rock opposite the cottages, his shaggy eyebrows curved over his eyes, his hat drawn down upon his brows. A sort of silent shock ran through the beholders when the men entered the first cottage: and when they came out again carrying a piece of furniture, there was a cry, half savage in its wild impotence. Unfortunately the first thing that came to their hands was a large wooden cradle, in which lay a baby tucked up under the big patchwork quilt, which bulged out on every side. As it was set down upon its large rockers on the uneven ground the little sleeper gave a startled wail; and then it was that that cry, sharp and keen, dividing the silence like a knife, burst from the breasts of the watching people. It was Nelly Fraser's baby, who had the "weirdless" man. She stood with her bare arms wrapped in her apron beside her abandoned washing-tub, and gazed as if incapable of movement, with a face like ashes, at the destruction of her home. But while the mother stood stupefied, a little thing of three or four, which had been clinging to her skirts in keen baby wonder and attention, when she saw the cradle carried forth into the open air immediately took the place of guardian. Such an incident had never happened in all little Jeanie's experience before. She trotted forth, abandoning all alarm, to the road in which it was set down, and, turning a little smiling face of perfect content to the world, began to rock it softly with little coos of soothing and rills of infant laughter. The sombre background round, with all its human misery, made a dismal foil to this image of innocent satisfaction. The factor jumped up and turned his back upon the scene altogether, biting his nails and lowering his brows in a fury of wretchedness. And at last the poor women began to stir and take whispered counsel with each other. There was no longer room for either hope or entreaty; the only thing to be thought of now was what to do.

The next cottage was that of Nancy Robertson, who still held her position on her doorstep, watching the proceedings with a keen but somewhat complacent curiosity. They gave her an intense sense of self-importance and superiority, though she was not without feeling. When, however, the men, who had warmed to their work, and knew no distinction between one and another, approached her, a sudden panic and fury seized the old woman. She defied them shrilly, flying at the throat of the foremost with her old hands. The wretchedness of the poor women whose children were being thrust out shelterless did not reach the wild height of passion of her whose lawful property was threatened.

"Villains!" she shrieked, "will ye break into my hoose? What right have ye in my hoose? I'll brack your banes afore you put a fit into my hoose."

"Whist, whist, wife," said one of the men; "let go now, or I'll have to hurt ye. You canna stop us. You'll just do harm to yourself."

"John Shaw, John Shaw," shrieked Nancy, "do ye see what they're doing? and me that has paid my rent, no like those weirdless fuils. Do ye hear me speak? I've paid my rent to the last farden. I've discharged a' my debts, as I wuss ithers would discharge their debts to me." Her voice calmed down as the factor turned and made an impatient sign to the men. "Ye see," said Nancy, making a little address to her community, "what it is to have right on your side. They canna meddle with me. My man's auld, and I have everything to do for mysel', but they canna lay a hand on me.

"Oh, hold your tongue, woman," cried Duncan Fraser. "If ye canna help us, ye can let us be."

"And wha says that I canna help ye? I am just saying-I pay my debts as I wuss that ithers should pay their debts to me: and that's Scripter," said Nancy; but she added, "I never said I would shut my door to a neebor: ye can bring in Granny here; I'm no just a heart of stane like that young lord."

The women had not waited to witness Nancy's difficulties. Most of them had gone into their houses, to take a shawl from a cupboard, a book from the "drawers-head." One or two appeared with the family Bible under their arm. "The Lord kens where we are to go, but we must go somewhere," they said. There was a little group about Oona and her two pound notes. The moment of excitement was over, and they had now nothing to do but to meet their fate. The factor paced back and forward on the path, going out of his way to avoid here and there a pile of poor furniture. And the work of devastation went on rapidly: it is so easy, alas, to dismantle a cottage with its but and ben. Duncan Fraser did not move till two or three had been emptied. When he went in to bring out his mother, there was a renewed sensation among the worn-out people who were scarcely capable of any further excitement. Granny was Granny to all the glen. She was the only survivor of her generation. They had all known her from their earliest days. They stood worn and sorrow-stricken, huddled together in a little crowd, waiting before they took any further steps, till Granny should come.

But it was not Granny who came first. Some one, a stranger even to the children, whose attention was so easily attracted by any novelty, appeared suddenly round a corner of the hill. He paused at the unexpected sight of the little cluster of habitations; for the country was unknown to him; and for a moment appeared as if he would have turned back. But the human excitement about this scene caught him in spite of himself. He gazed at it for a moment trying to divine what was happening, then came on slowly with hesitating steps. He had been out all the morning, as he had been for some days before. His being had sustained a great moral shock, and for the moment all his holds on life seemed gone. This was the first thing that had moved him even to the faintest curiosity. He came forward slowly, observed by no one. The factor was still standing with his back to the woeful scene, gloomily contemplating the distant country, while Oona moved about in the midst of the women, joining in their consultations, and doing her best to rouse poor Nelly, who sat by her baby's cradle like a creature dazed and capable of no further thought. There was, therefore, no one to recognise Lord Erradeen as he came slowly into the midst of this tragedy, not knowing what it was. The officials had recovered their spirits as they got on with their work. Natural pity and sympathetic feeling had yielded to the carelessness of habit and common occupation. They had begun to make rough jokes with each other, to fling the cotters' possessions carelessly out of the windows, to give each other catches with a "Hi! tak' this," flinging the things about. Lord Erradeen had crossed the little bridge, and was in the midst of the action of the painful drama, when they brought out from Duncan's house his old mother's chair. It was cushioned with pillows, one of which tumbled out into the mud and was roughly caught up by the rough fellow who carried it, and flung at his companion's head, with a laugh and jest. It was he who first caught sight of the stranger, a new figure among the disconsolate crowd. He gave a whistle to his comrade to announce a novelty, and rattled down hastily out of his hands the heavy chair. Walter was wholly roused by the strangeness of this pantomime. It brought back something to his mind, though he could scarcely tell what. He stepped in front of the man and asked, "What does this mean?" in a hasty and somewhat imperious tone; but his eyes answered his question almost before he had asked it. Nelly Fraser with her pile of furniture, her helpless group of children, her stupefied air of misery, was full in the foreground, and the ground was strewed with other piles. Half of the houses in the hamlet were already gutted. One poor woman was lifting her bedding out of the wet, putting it up upon chairs; another stood regarding hers helplessly, as if without energy to attempt even so small a salvage.

"What is the meaning of all this?" the young man cried imperiously again.

His voice woke something in the deep air of despondency and misery which had not been there before. It caught the ear of Oona, who pushed the women aside in sudden excitement. It roused-was it a faint thrill of hope in the general despair? Last of all it reached the factor, who, standing gloomily apart, had closed himself up in angry wretchedness against any appeal. He did not hear this, but somehow felt it in the air, and turned round, not knowing what the new thing was. When he saw Lord Erradeen, Shaw was seized as with a sudden frenzy. He turned round upon him sharply, with an air which was almost threatening.

"What does it mean?" he said. "It means your will and pleasure, Lord Erradeen, not mine. God is my witness, no will of mine. You brute!" cried the factor, suddenly, "what are you doing? Stand out of the way, and let the honest woman pass. Get out of her way, I tell you, or I'll send ye head foremost down the glen!"

This sudden outcry, which was a relief to the factor's feelings, was addressed not to Walter, but to the man who, coming out again with a new armful, came rudely in the way of the old Granny, to whom all the glen looked up, and who was coming out with a look of bewilderment on her aged face, holding by her son's arm. Granny comprehended vaguely, if at all, what was going on. She gave a momentary glance of suspicion at the fellow who pushed against her, then looked out with a faint smile at the two gentlemen standing in front of the door. Her startled mind recurred to its old instincts with but a faint perception of anything new.

"Sirs," she said, in her feeble old voice, "I am distressed I canna ask ye in; but I'm feckless mysel, being a great age, and there's some flitting going on, and my good-daughter she is out of the way."

"Do you hear that, my lord?" cried Shaw; "the old wife is making her excuses for not asking you into a house you are turning her out of at the age of eighty-three. Oh, I am not minding if I give ye offence! I have had enough of it. Find another factor, Lord Erradeen. I would rather gather stones upon the fields than do again what I have done this day."

Walter looked about like a man awakened from a dream. He said, almost with awe-

"Is this supposed to be done by me? I know nothing of it, nor the reason. What is the reason? I disown it altogether as any act of mine."

"Oh, my lord," cried Shaw, who was in a state of wild excitement, "there is the best of reasons. Rent-your lordship understands that-a little more money lest your coffers should not be full enough. And as for these poor bodies, they have so much to put up with, a little more does not matter. They have not a roof to their heads, but that's nothing to your lordship. You can cover the hills with sheep, and they can-die-if they like," cried the factor, avenging himself for all he had suffered. He turned away with a gesture of despair and fury. "I have done enough; I wash my hands of it," he cried.

Walter cast around him a bewildered look. To his own consciousness he was a miserable and helpless man; but all the poor people about gazed at him, wistful, deprecating, as at a sort of unknown, unfriendly god, who had their lives in his hands. The officers perhaps thought it a good moment to show their zeal in the eyes of the young lord. They made a plunge into the house once more, and appeared again, one carrying Duncan's bed, a great, slippery, unwieldy sack of chaff, another charged with the old, tall, eight-day clock, which he jerked along as if it had been a man hopping from one foot to another.

"We'll soon be done, my lord," the first said in an encouraging tone, "and then a' the commotion will just die away."

Lord Erradeen had been lost in a miserable dream. He woke up now at this keen touch of reality, and found himself in a position so abhorrent and antagonistic to all his former instincts and traditions, that his very being seemed to stand still in the horror of the moment. Then a sudden passionate energy filled all his veins. The voice in which he ordered the men back rang through the glen. He had flung himself upon one of them in half-frantic rage, before he was aware what he was doing, knocking down the astounded official, who got up rubbing his elbow, and declaring it was no fault of his; while Walter glared at him, not knowing what he did. But after this encounter with flesh and blood Lord Erradeen recovered his reason. He turned round quickly, and with his own hands carried back Granny's chair. The very weight of it, the touch of something to do, brought life into his veins. He took the old woman from her son's arm, and led her in reverently, supporting her upon his own: then going out again without a word, addressed himself to the manual work of restoration. From the moment of his first movement, the whole scene changed in the twinkling of an eye. The despairing apathy of the people gave way to a tumult of haste and activity. Duncan Fraser was the first to move.

"My lord!" he cried; "if you are my lord," his stern composure yielding to tremulous excitement, "if it's your good will and pleasure to let us bide, that's all we want. Take no trouble for us; take no thought for that." Walter gave him a look, almost without intelligence. He had not a word to say. He was not sufficiently master of himself to express the sorrow and anger and humiliation in his awakened soul; but he could carry back the poor people's things, which was a language of nature not to be misunderstood. He went on taking no heed of the eager assistance offered on all sides. "I'll do it, my lord. Oh, dinna you trouble. It's ower much kindness. Ye'll fyle your fingers; ye'll wear out your strength. We'll do it; we'll do it," the people cried.

The cottagers' doors flew open as by magic; they worked all together, the women, the children, and Duncan Fraser, and Lord Erradeen. Even Oona joined, carrying the little children back to their homes, picking up here a bird in a cage, there a little stunted geranium or musk in a pot. In half an hour it seemed, or less, the whole was done, and when the clouds that had been lowering on the hills and darkening the atmosphere broke and began to pour down torrents of rain upon the glen, the little community was housed and comfortable once more.

While this excitement lasted Walter was once more the healthful and vigorous young man who had travelled with Oona on the coach, and laughed with her on the Isle. But when the storm was over, and they walked together towards the loch, she became aware of the difference in him. He was very serious, pale, almost haggard now that the excitement was over. His smiling lips smiled no longer, there was in his eyes, once so light-hearted and careless, a sort of hunted, anxious look.

"No," he said, in answer to her questions, "I have not been ill; I have had-family matters to occupy me: and of this I knew nothing. Letters? I had none, I received nothing. I have been occupied, too much perhaps, with-family affairs."

Upon this no comment could be made, but his changed looks made so great a claim upon her sympathy that Oona looked at him with eyes that were almost tender in their pity. He turned round suddenly and met her glance.

"You know," he said, with a slight tremble in his voice, "that there are some things-they say in every family-a little hard to bear. But I have been too much absorbed-I was taken by surprise. It shall happen no more." He held his head high, and looked round him as if to let some one else see the assurance he was giving her. "I promise you," he added, in a tone that rang like a defiance, "it shall happen no more!" Then he added hurriedly with a slight swerve aside, and trembling in his voice, "Do you think I might come with you? Would Mrs. Forrester have me at the Isle?"


* * *

[Transcriber's Note: Hyphen variations left as printed.]

[The end of The Wizard's Son, Volume 1 by Margaret Oliphant]

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