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The Last of Their Race By Annie S. Swan Characters: 20479

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Isla, already dressed for a journey, took in her father's breakfast-tray next morning.

"You are surely early afield, my dear?" he said, looking at the trim figure with quick approbation.

"Yes, dear. I am going to Glasgow to see Mr. Cattanach, because I found when I started out to answer his letter that I couldn't say half I wanted."

"His letter wasn't very clear, I thought. Ask him why he doesn't learn to express himself better. I thought that was a lawyer's business. But it seems a long way to go to Glasgow to say that to him. When do you get your train?"

"Nine-thirty, and Jamie Forbes has come up from the hotel to drive me to Balquhidder. So good-bye, dear. Diarmid will look after you till I come back, and you may expect me about tea-time."

He did not ask any other question. His mind was now curiously detached from all immediate happenings, and he lived more and more in the past. Even his reading of the newspapers was coloured by the tendency to retrospect.

Isla got away with a considerable sense of relief, and when she mounted to the side of Jamie Forbes in the hotel dogcart her eyes even sparkled. There was now no horse of any kind, nor was there any carriage in the stableyard of Achree, though the old people, even Diarmid himself, could sadly recall the time when it had been full.

Isla was glad to be doing something. She had all the restlessness of an active nature that could not endure a policy of drift. They had been drifting so long with the ebb tide at Achree that she welcomed the crisis which made it necessary to take an immediate step.

She went ostensibly to ask the lawyer's advice, but her own mind was made up as to the best course to pursue. Her judgment was singularly clear, and she was not now in the smallest doubt as to the right--nay, the only--thing to be done in the circumstances.

At Balquhidder Station a few passengers were waiting for the Oban train, and, slightly to Isla's chagrin, directly she appeared on the platform a tall young man in a tweed suit and a covert coat came forward, with evident signs of satisfaction, to greet her.

"Good morning, Isla. This is an uncommon bit of luck. Are you going to town?"

"To Glasgow," she unwillingly admitted. "And you?"

"Glasgow too," he answered joyfully. "I was cursing my luck as I drove over the hill from Garrion, but if I had known, I should have driven with a lighter heart."

Isla scarcely smiled. She liked Neil Drummond very well as a friend, for they had known each other since their childhood. But in the last three years he had spoiled that friendship by periodically asking her to marry him. The expression in his eyes now indicated that very little provocation would make him ask her again on the spot, for he was very much in earnest. He was two years younger than Isla, and she always treated him like a young and very inexperienced brother, which incensed him a good deal.

He had just come into the property from his uncle, and wanted nothing but a wife to make Garrion complete. He was a finely-built, good-looking young fellow, with an honest, kindly face, with not a very high type of intellect perhaps, but with sufficient common sense and sound judgment to fill admirably the position to which he had been called.

He and his sister Kitty, being orphans, had been brought up by their uncle at Garrion, and had known no other home. Kitty and Isla were friends, of course, though there was not so very much in common between that dashing, high-spirited, happy-go-lucky girl and the more staid and placid Isla.

"How's Kitty? We haven't seen her for a long time," she said as they began to pace to and fro on the platform--objects of much interest of a significant kind to those who knew them.

"Kitty's alone, but when are you coming to Garrion? Aunt Betty is always asking why you don't come."

"That's easily answered. It's five miles to Garrion, and I haven't either a horse or a bicycle; but tell Lady Betty I'll walk over one of these days."

"You needn't do that, Isla--and very well you know it. All you have to do is to say the word, and the best bit of horse-flesh in Garrion stables is at your command."

"I haven't much time," she said rather quickly. "Father seems to need me more of late, and----"

She hesitated, and then came to a stop, deciding that she would not just yet mention a word about Malcolm's coming home. It was not that she could not trust Neil Drummond, but the shame of that home-coming held her back from speaking of it even to a friend of such long standing.

"It is very unusual for you to go to Glasgow, isn't it?" said Neil, looking down with a slightly rueful expression at the bonnie, winsome face by his side.

"It is very unusual. Last night father had a letter from Mr. Cattanach, which we found rather difficult to answer, so I came to the conclusion that it might save further complications if I went up and had a talk with him about it."

"Well, if that's all, you can come and lunch with me, can't you? St. Enoch's Hotel, one sharp. I'm only after a horse. It won't take me more than an hour."

Isla hesitated, but finally promised.

"I must get the two-ten train, and if anything happens to prevent me from keeping the appointment, don't wait. I'll be there at one if I'm coming."

"All right," said Drummond joyfully. "This is a red-letter day--and no mistake. Shows that a fellow never knows when his next bit of good luck is going to turn up."

He looked so young and boyish at the moment that Isla suddenly smiled upon him.

"What a boy you are, Neil! I don't believe anything will ever make you grow up. Even being Laird of Garrion hasn't had the smallest effect. Here's the train. Now I warn you I won't speak to you on the journey, because I have heaps and heaps of things to arrange in my mind. Remember, I'm going to a lawyer's office, and nobody goes there unprepared."

"All right. So long as I am sitting next to you, and preventing anybody else from speaking to you, I shan't grumble," said Neil calmly as he helped her into a corner of the third-class carriage.

He had a first-class ticket himself, which he carefully hid from her. Had he dared he would have paid the difference for the privilege of having a compartment to themselves, but Isla would not have permitted that.

Shortly after eleven o'clock they arrived at Glasgow and, saying that it was necessary for him to have a cab to take him to his destination at the south-side, he put Isla in and drove her the short distance to the lawyer's door. Then with the prospect of meeting her at lunch in little more than an hour's time, he departed in the seventh heaven of delight.

Miss Mackinnon, sending in her name, was not kept waiting an unnecessary moment. Indeed, so much was she respected in the office that Cattanach turned over a rather important client to his junior partner and at once went to see Miss Mackinnon, escorting her to his private room.

"I came in consequence of your letter to papa yesterday, Mr. Cattanach," said Isla as they shook hands. "It was of such importance that I thought I would come and have a talk with you about it."

Cattanach was not an old man, and he bore his fifty years lightly. He had a somewhat heavy yet keen face, was a little stern in repose. But, when his genial smile irradiated his face, the sternness was forgotten. His reputation in the city was that of being one of the first lawyers of the day, and business simply flowed in upon his firm.

His father had been at the helm of Achree affairs when they were in a more prosperous state, and he had been a life-long friend and admirer of the General. He had managed to communicate his sincere and sympathetic interest to his son, who had done much more for the Mackinnons than they could have had the right to expect from their man of business or than could ever be repaid. He had indeed helped young Mackinnon out of several scrapes for his father's and his sister's sake, though doing that had been a service very ill to his liking. An interview with Isla herself, however, was a pure pleasure, which, on this occasion, was all the keener that it was wholly unexpected.

"Yes, thank you, I am quite well and father too, though he is failing, I think," she said rather sadly. "I came in answer to your letter and in order to show you this."

She had a small bag of curiously-wrought Moorish leather on her arm, from which she produced the letter that had come yesterday by the Indian mail. She did not immediately pass it over, however, or read any extract from it, but, leaning slightly forward in her chair, she fixed her clear, grave eyes on the lawyer's face as he stood in quite characteristic attitude in front of his desk, leaning one hand slightly on the table.

"Won't you sit down, Mr. Cattanach? I'm afraid I must take up quite a lot of your time this morning--an hour perhaps. I have to lunch at the St. Enoch's Hotel at one."

"Then I shall not have the pleasure of taking you to lunch myself."

"Not to-day, thank you," said Isla, and he imagined her colour rose slightly. "It is about your letter I first want to speak. My father did not comprehend it, I am afraid. He sent the message to you," she added with a faint, wandering smile, "that he was surprised that a lawyer did not express himself better. But of course to me what you said was perfectly clear. Tell me about this man who wishes to take poor old Achree. Is he--is he at all a possible person?"

There was just the slightest suggestion of hauteur in the question, which, at another time, might have amused Cattanach hugely. Out in the hard world of men and business things were called by their right names, and there would have been small sympathy expressed for the Mackinnon pride.

But he understood. This fine creature, product of an ancient race and embodiment in her own personality of all that was best in it, appealed to him beyond any power of his to express. He was prepared to meet her and to help her, not only to the best of his ability but even beyond what his prudence and his better judgment would have permitted. And it would not be the first time in the record of his transactions with Achree that service

had been rendered by Alexander Cattanach from purely disinterested motives--service that had never found its way into the columns of any ledger.

"He is a very possible person indeed, Miss Mackinnon, quite the best type of educated American--and the type is very good."

"Is it?" asked Isla with a little shiver. "I have never encountered it. The few specimens that come to the glen are not--are not what one would call the best type. And the people who had Edinard for two seasons running!--shall one ever forget them? Their flying motors with screaming hooters, their impossible costumes, their disregard for our quiet Sabbaths, their noise--all were indescribable. I should not like such people as they at Achree. But, indeed, I don't suppose such people would so much as look at it. Lady Eden told me that the first year it cost her half the rent to put into the house what her tenants wanted. They were so mean in regard to trifles that they would not buy the simplest thing."

Cattanach smiled understandingly. He also had some acquaintance with that type.

"I don't think you would find the Rosmeads like that. I should say myself that they are simple gentlefolks and that, this summer at least, they would be certain to live quietly. They wish the place for retirement on account of Mrs. Rosmead, who is recovering from a long illness, and for their elder daughter, who has just had an unpleasant experience in the Divorce Court--one of those curious matrimonial entanglements of which America seems to be full. She was here on Tuesday with her brother. She is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen."

"Poor thing--and had she a bad husband?"

"I understand so, but, of course, the subject was not mentioned. There is a younger daughter called Sadie, and there is also a boy at Yale or Harvard, who would spend only his summer here. I think you would like the family, and they would be willing to pay three hundred for the house, and five with the shooting."

"Five hundred!" murmured Isla, and her eyes had a sort of hungry look.

Money for its own sake did not exist for her. She was naturally of a generous, even of a prodigal mind, and she was certainly made for the gracious dispensation of great wealth. But she had had to count the pence so long that she had arrived, by many painful processes, at full appreciation of their market value.

"We could certainly live at Creagh on three hundred; then two could be laid by, couldn't they, Mr. Cattanach?"

He turned swiftly away, for there was something in the eager question, almost childishly put, which gripped him by the throat.

"Yes, of course. In the country life is simple," he said at last. "I gather from what you say that you would be willing at least to consider the offer of Mr. Hylton P. Rosmead."

"I haven't any alternative now," she said, as she pulled the strings of the leather bag again and produced her brother's letter. "Please to read that, Mr. Cattanach."

She passed over the thin, and now crumpled sheet covered with Malcolm's sprawling undignified handwriting, which the lawyer's eyes quickly scanned. The expression of his face as its full significance dawned upon him quite changed and perceptibly hardened. When he refolded it again it was a moment before the suitable word came to him. He knew that words of pity or condolence would be quite out of place, if spoken to Isla Mackinnon, and that the truest kindness he could show her would be to accept the situation as a matter of course and do his utmost to help, as he had opportunity, or could make it where he had it in his power.

"This makes acceptance of Rosmead's offer imperative, as you say, Miss Mackinnon. Perhaps the best thing I can do is to send him to Achree to see you. He is in the city this week. He has many friends here connected with the engineering profession. I believe that in his own country he is a distinguished engineer, and he certainly is a very gentlemanly, well-informed man."

He praised the American of a set purpose, deeming it best to direct Miss Mackinnon's thoughts to the pleasant side of the inevitable.

"Do you think they would wish a great deal of money spent on the house? It is very bare, really, and rather dilapidated. But if he wanted even a tithe of the things that Lady Eden's tenants asked for I'm afraid the bargain would have to be off. I could not owe money myself, even to let Achree."

"I don't think there will be any difficulty. They are without doubt very wealthy people, and, further, they are so anxious for the place that they will take it at your terms. You spoke of the Lodge of Creagh a moment ago. You would go there to live in the interval?"

"Yes. It happens to be empty since Mrs. Macdonald died last autumn, and if it were well fired and aired we could be quite comfortable there. Of course, it is small, but I would give up the dining-room to my father, and, so long as he is comfortable and does not suffer by the change, nothing else matters much."

"It is very remote," suggested Cattanach, "and the road across the moor is nothing to boast of, if I remember it rightly."

"Of course it is only a shooting-lodge--and a small one at that; but its remoteness won't matter to me, and, as for my brother, perhaps it would be a very good thing for him to be shut off by the moor of Creagh."

Cattanach nodded gravely.

Then she put another question to him of a more disconcerting kind.

"Mr. Cattanach, why are men usually dismissed from the Army? What are the offences, I mean? They must be grave, of course, because it is so serious a thing to cut short a man's career at the very commencement."

"It is a serious thing, and it is not done on trifling grounds," he answered quietly, not dreaming of evading her question. "What your brother says about injustice is, of course, nonsense. It exists in small things in the Army, as elsewhere, but it would never reach the length of, as you say, cutting short a man's career."

She sighed a little as she rose to her feet. He had not specified, but she was answered.

"It is all very dreadful, and it would certainly kill my father if he knew. Happily--how strange it is that I can use the word in relation to what has been such a sorrow to me, but happily--his failing faculties don't permit him to grasp the affairs of life. He understands that Malcolm is coming home, and he is full of wrath at the amount of leave allowed in the service in these days. It will thus be all right for a little while, but if Malcolm is to live on as a loafer," she said with a sad inflexion of scorn in her voice, "he will be troubled about it. Oh, Mr. Cattanach, what is to be done with Malcolm?"

Her brave voice shook, and again there was in her eyes that agony of appeal which a far less kind-hearted man than Cattanach could not have resisted.

"Dear Miss Mackinnon, the trouble is very real and awful, but it is not on us just yet. Let us get the question of the tenancy of Achree settled, and then we shall have time to tackle the other. The Rosmeads wish to get settled in the place before Easter. Would that be possible?"

"I shall make it so, and I want to be at Creagh before Malcolm arrives. He would create all sorts of difficulties, and it will be far better to get the people into Achree before then."

"And your father?"

"Ah, that will be difficult, but I have never been beaten yet, Mr. Cattanach, though sometimes I have been very near it. Yesterday I thought I was, but to-day, when I woke up, I felt quite strong and able, and now, after your kindness, I am sure we shall get through."

"I shall help to the very best of my ability. I can come down to Achree if you think I can be of any use to you in persuading the General."

"Thank you. I shall write if I think it necessary for you to come. But he is so like a child! He will be quite pleased to go to Creagh, I believe, and he will not understand why we have to leave Achree. I am glad that it is so now. If he had been his old self it would have been so difficult for him."

"Undoubtedly it would."

"And Malcolm's affair too! He must not be allowed to idle about indefinitely in the glen, or I shall never have a moment's peace. I'm going to talk very straightly to him when he comes. He has always got off too easily. But this money--how is it to be found? If they begin to press for it would they take Achree?"

"We shall prevent that. You must leave this in my hands, Miss Mackinnon. The best thing your brother could do would be to emigrate to one of the new countries--to Canada, or the Cape, or even the Argentine. As you say, it will not be possible to allow him to loaf about the glen."

"But he is so difficult, because, you see, he thinks nothing matters, and his only desire is to have what he calls a good time. Even if he has it at other people's expense he will have it. About this money he owes? I will do my utmost to save for it out of the money the Americans will pay. They will not do anything drastic about it, I hope--seize upon Achree or any part of it," she repeated wistfully, as if yet unconvinced.

"I can deal with them, Miss Mackinnon. You must leave that part of the business for your brother and me to settle between us. You may trust me to do what will be absolutely for the good of yourself and your brother."

"Oh, I know," she said with eloquent eyes. "Thank you so much. You are always so kind. Things seem easier when one has seen you. Good-bye, then. And you will send the American man to view the land soon? I hope I shall be able to please him."

A clock on the mantelshelf struck, and she made haste to the door.

"I have to lunch with Mr. Neil Drummond of Garrion at one. I must run," she said.

The lawyer himself escorted her to the street door, put her into a cab, and, as he returned slowly up the stairs, rubbed his hands together meditatively.

"Drummond of Garrion! Well, well, perhaps it might be the best thing she could do. Poor, poor girl, but game to the innermost fibre of her being! Where would our old families be but for such as she--but for the fine fibre of their women? Garrion! Garrion! By Gad, I must look into it and see whether it would be worth her while."

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