Imágenes de páginas



WHEN one struck on the big kitchen clock, with an ominous sound like a knell, Janet, trying to reduce her big step to an inaudible footfall, came "ben" again. She found her mistress sitting still idly as if she were dead, the lamp burning solemnly, not the sound even of a breath in the room. "No stocking in her hands, not even reading a book," Janet said. For a moment, indeed, with a quick impulse of fear, the woman thought that Mrs Ogilvie had died in the new catastrophe. "Oh, mem, mem!" she cried, and in an instant there was a faint stir.

"Well, Janet," Mrs Ogilvy said in a stifled voice.

"Will ye sit up longer? A' the trains are passed, and long passed. He will be coming in the morning; he must just-have missed the last."

"I am not going to my bed just yet," the mistress said.

"But, mem, you will be worn out. You have just had no meat and no sleep and no rest, and you'll be weariet to death."

"And what would it matter if I was?" she answered, with a faint smile.

"Oh, dinna say that; how can we tell what may be wanted of you, and needing a' your strength?"

Mrs Ogilvy roused herself at these words. "And that's quite true," she said. "You have more sense than anybody would expect; you are a lesson to me, that have had plenty reason to know better. But, nevertheless, I will not go to my bed yet not just yet. I can get a good sleep in this chair."

"With the window open, mem,

in the dead of the night, after all Mr Robert said!"


"Do you call that the dead of the night?" said the mistress. And the two women looked out silenced in the great hush and awe of that pause of nature between the night and the day. It was like no light that ever was on sea or land, though it is daily, nightly, for watchers and sleepless souls. was lovely and awful-a light in which everything hidden in the dark came to life again, like the light alone of the watchful eyes of Him who slumbereth not nor sleeps. They felt Him contemplating them and their troubles, knowing what was to come of them, which they did not, from the skies-and their hearts were hushed within them: there was silence for a moment, the profound silence that reigned out and in, in which they were as the trees.

[ocr errors]

Then Mrs Ogilvy started and cried, "What is that? Was it anything at all? There are sounds that enhance the silence, just as there are discords that increase the harmony of music-sounds of insects stirring in their sleep, of leaves falling, of a grain of sand losing its balance and rolling over on the way. Janet heard nothing. She shook her head in her big white cap. And then suddenly her mistress gripped her with a force that no one could have suspected to be in those soft old hands. "Now, listen! There's somebody on the road, there's somebody at the gate!"

I will not describe the heats and chills of the moment that elapsed before the big loose figure appeared

[ocr errors]

on the walk, coming on leisurely, with a perceptible air of fatigue. "Ah, you're up still," he said, as he came within hearing. Janet had flown to open the door for him, undoing all the useless bars, making a wonderful noise in the night. "I could have stepped in through the window," he said. "You've walked from Edinburgh," cried Janet; "you must be wanting some supper.' "I would not object to a little cold meat," he said, with a laugh. His tone was always pleasant to Janet. His mother stood and listened to this colloquy within the parlour door. She must have been angry, you would say, jealous that her maid should be more kindly used by her son than she, exasperated by his heedless selfishness. She was none of all those things. heart was like a well, a fountain of thankfulness welling up before God: her whole being overflooded with sudden relief and sweet content.


"How imprudent with that window open-in the middle of the night; how can you tell who may be about?" were the first words he said, going up himself to the window and closing it and the shutters over it hastily. "I'm sorry I'm late," he said afterwards. "I missed the last train, and then I think I missed the road. I've

been a long time getting here. These confounded light nights; you've no shelter at all, however late you walk.”

"You will be tired, my dear." He had brought in an atmosphere with him that filled in a moment this little dainty old woman's room. It was greatly made up of tobacco, but there was also whisky in it and other odours indiscriminate, the smell of a man who had been smoking all day and drinking all day, though the latter process had

not affected his seasoned senses. Of all things horrible to her this was the most horrible: it made her faint and sick. But he was, of course, quite unconscious of any such effect, nor did he notice the paleness that had come over her face.

"Yes, I am tired," he said; "Janet's suggestion was not a bad idea. I have not walked so far for years. A horse between my legs, and I would not mind a dozen times the distance; but I've got out of the use of my own feet." He spoke more naturally, with a lighter heart than he had shown yet. "I have not had a bad day. I looked up some of the old howffs. Nobody there that remembered me, but still it was a little like old times."

"Wouldn't you be better, Robbie, oh my dear, to keep away from the old howffs?" she said, trembling a little.

"It was to be expected that you would say that. If you mean for the present affair, no; if you mean for general good behaviour, perhaps yes; but it is early days. I may surely take a little licence the first days I am back. There are some of your new clothes," he added, tossing down a bundle, "and more will be ready in a day or two. I've rigged myself out from head to foot. But I wouldn't have them sent out here. I'm not too fond of an address. I promised to call for

them on Saturday."

The poor mother's heart was transfixed as with a sudden arrow. This, then, would be repeated again; once more she would have to watch the day out and half the night through-and again, no doubt, and again.

"There's Janet as good as her word," he said, as the sound of her proceedings in the next room became audible. And he ate an

immense meal in the middle of the night, the light growing stronger every moment in the crevices of the shutters. I don't know what there is that is wholesome, almost meritorious, in the consumption of food. Mrs Ogilvy forgot the smell of the tobacco and the whisky in the pleasure of seeing the roastbeef disappear in large slices from his plate. "It was a pleasure to see him eating," she said afterwards to Janet. Yes, it is somehow wholesome and meritorious. It implies a good digestion, not spoiled by other pernicious things; it implies (almost) an easy mind and a peaceful conscience, and something like innocence in a man. A good meal, not voracious, as of a creature starving, but eaten with good appetite, with satisfaction,it is a kind of certificate of morality which many a poor woman has hailed with delight. They have their own way of looking at things. And thus the evening and the morning made a new day.

perhaps a brilliant career, but no harm in it, no harm in it!—had been long about the country, a country of which she had never heard the name, in a half-settled State equally unknown, and at length had been traced to their headquarters. They had been pursued hotly by the Sheriff for some time. To Mrs Ogilvy a sheriff meant an elderly gentleman in correct legal costume, a person of serious importance, holding his courts and giving his judgments. She could not realise to herself the Sheriff-Substitute of Eskshire riding wildly over moss and moor after any man; but no doubt in America it was different. It was proved that the road agents had sworn vengeance against him, and that whoever met him first was pledged to shoot him, whether he himself could escape or not. The meeting took place by chance at a roadside shanty in the midst of the wilds, and the Sheriff was shot, before his party had perceived the other, by a premeditated well-directed bullet straight to the heart. Who had fired it? The most likely person was the leader of the band, of whom the Western journalist gave a sensational history, and to secure him was the object of the police; but there were half-a-dozen others who might have done it, and whom it was of the utmost importance to secure, if only in the hope that one of them might turn Queen's evidence. (I don't know what they call this in America, nor, indeed, anything but what I have heard vaguely reported of such matters. The better instructed will pardon and rectify for themselves.) Among these, but at the end-heaven be praised, at the end!was the name of Robert. The band had dispersed in different directions and fled, all but one, who was killed.

The next day, before she left her room, Mrs Ogilvy took the newspaper, which she had laid carefully aside, and read for the first timelocking her door first, which was a thing she had scarcely done all her life before the story of the crime which had thrown a shadow over her son, and had made him "cut and run," as he said, for his life. She had to read it three or four times over before she could make out what it meant, and even then her understanding was not very clear. For one thing, she had not, as was natural, the remotest idea what "road agents" were. Mercifully for her for I believe, though I know as little as she, that it means, not to put too fine a point upon it, highwaymen, neither more nor less. A party of these men -she thought it must mean some kind of travelling merchants; not

When she had got all this more


or less distinctly into her mind, she read the story of the captain of the band, Lewis or Lew Winterman, with a dozen aliases. He was a German by origin, though an American born. He spoke English with a slight German accent. He was large and tall and fair, of great strength, and very ingratiating manners. He had gone through a hundred adventures all told at length. He had ruined both men and women wherever he took his fatal way. He was a hero of romance, he was a monster of cruelty. Slaughter and bloodshed were his natural element. He was known to have an extraordinary ascendancy over his band, so that there was nothing they would not do while under his influence: though, when free from him, they hated and feared him. Thus every man of the party was the object of pursuit, if not for himself, yet in hopes of finding some clue to the whereabouts of this master ruffian, whose gifts were such that, though he would not recoil from the most cold-blooded murder, he could also wheedle the bird from the tree. Mrs Ogilvy carefully locked this dreadful paper away again with trembling hands. It took her a little trouble to find a safe place to which there was a lock and key, but she did so at last. And when she went down-stairs it was with a feeling that Mr Somerville's prayer to steek her doors, and Robbie's concern for the fastening of all the windows, were perhaps justified; but what would bring a man like that over land and sea-what would bring him here to the peaceful Hewan? No, no; it was not a thing for any reasonable person to fear.

There were plenty of places in the world to take refuge in more like such a


What would he do here?— he could find nothing to do here. America, Mrs Ogilvy had always


heard, was a very big place, far bigger than England and Scotland and Ireland put together. He must have plenty of howffs there. And if not America, there was Germany, which they said he came from, or other places on the Continent, far, far more likely to have hiding-holes for a criminal than the country about Edinburgh. No, no. No, no. Therefore there was no fear.

When Robert came down-stairs, which was not till late, he was a little improved in appearance by a new coat, but not so much as his mother had hoped. She was disappointed, though in face of the other things this was such a very small matter. He was just a backwoodsman, a bushman, whatever you call it, still. He had not got back that air of a gentleman which had been his in his youththat most prized and precious thing, which is more than beauty, far more than fine clothes or good looks. This gave her a pang: but then there were many things that gave her a pang, though all subsided in the thought that he was here, that he had come back guiltless and uninjured from Edinburgh, notwithstanding the anxiety he had given her. But was it not her own fault that she was anxious, always imagining some dreadful thing? After his breakfast (again such an excellent breakfast, quite unaffected by his late hours or his large supper!) he came to her into the parlour with the Scotsman,' which Janet had brought him, in his hand. "I thought you would like to hear," he said, carefully closing the door after him. "You remember that man I mentioned to you?"

"Yes, Robbie," she had almost said the man's name, but refrained.

"There is no word of him," he said. "That was one thing I was anxious about. There are places where — communications are kept


[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

66 It may be so," Mrs Ogilvy said; "but a place like this-a small bit house deep in the bosom of the country, and nothing but quiet country-folk about

[ocr errors]

"What is that but the best of places for a hunted man? He said once that if I ever came home he would come after me-that it was just the place he wanted to lie snug in, where nobody would think of looking for him. You think me a fool to be so anxious about the bolts and the bars; but the room might be empty one moment, and the next you might look round, and he would be there."

Though it was morning, before noon, and the safety of the full day was upon the house, with its open windows, he cast a doubtful suspicious glance round, as if afraid of seeing some one behind him even


"Robbie," said Mrs Ogilvy, "there is no man that has to do with you, were he good or bad, that I would close my doors upon, except the shedder of blood. He shall not come here."


him," cried the young man. would say so too. I say Curse him; I hate his very name. He's done me more harm than I can ever get the better of. I've seen him do things that would curdle your blood in your veins; but him there and me here, standing before each other -there is nothing I can refuse him!" he cried.

"Robbie, you will think I am but a poor old woman," said his mother, with her faltering voice. "I could not stand up, you will think, to any strange man; but the shedder of blood is like nothing else. It shall never be said of me that I harboured a shedder of blood."

"Oh, mother! how can you tell -how can you tell?" he cried, "when I that know tell you that I could not refuse him anything. I am just his slave at his chariotwheels."

"But I am not his slave," said Mrs Ogilvy, with a glitter of spirit in her eyes. "I can face him, though you may not think it. He shall never come here!"

He flung himself down into a chair, and put the newspaper between her and himself, making a semblance of reading. But this he could not keep up: the stillness, and the peace, and the innocence about him affected the man, who, whatever he was now, had been born Robbie Ogilvy of the Hewan. He made a stifled sound in his throat once or twice as if about to speak, but brought forth no certain sound for some five minutes, when he suddenly burst forth in a high but broken voice, "What would you say if I were to tell you—————?” and suddenly stopped again.

"What, Robbie?" she said, quivering like a leaf.

"Nothing," he replied, looking up with sudden defiance in her

"There is nothing I can refuse face.


« AnteriorContinuar »