Part 3 out of 6
"Well, a good height, you know, and a nice figure and a pleasant face
and tidy hair. The sort of person that looks well in a grey coat and
skirt and a feather boa."
"I know exactly. What a splendid description!"
"Now," continued Miss Watson, much elated by the praise, "Mrs. Morrison
is very conspicuous looking. She's got yellow hair and a bright colour,
and a kind of bold way of looking."
"She's a complex character," sighed Mrs. Jowett; "she wears snakeskin
shoes. But you must be kind to her, Miss Watson. I think she would
"Oh, so we are kind to her. The congregation subscribed and gave a grand
piano for a wedding-present. Wasn't that good? She is very musical, you
know, and plays the violin beautifully. That'll be very useful at church
"I can't imagine," said Miss Dawson, "why we should consider a
minister's wife and her talents as the property of the congregation. A
doctor's wife isn't at the beck and call of her husband's patients, a
lawyer's wife isn't briefed along with her husband. It doesn't seem to
"How odd," said Pamela; "only yesterday I was talking to Mrs.
Macdonald--Jean's minister's wife--and I said just what you say, that it
seems hard that the time of a minister's wife should be at the mercy of
everyone, and she said, 'My dear, it's our privilege, and if I had my
life to live again I would ask nothing better than to be a hard-working
minister's hard-working wife.' I stand hat in hand before that couple.
When you think what they have given all these years to this little
town--what qualities of heart and head. The tact of an ambassador (Mrs.
Macdonald has that), the eloquence of a Wesley, a largesse of sympathy
and help and encouragement, not to speak of more material things to
everyone in need, and all at the rate of L250 per annum. Prodigious!"
"Yes," said Miss Dawson, "they have been a blessing to Priorsford for
more than forty years. Mr. Macdonald is a saint, but a saint is a great
deal the better of a practical wife. Mrs. Macdonald is an example of
what can be accomplished by a woman both in a church and at home. I sit
rebuked before her."
"Oh, my dear," said Mrs. Jowett, "no one could possibly be more helpful
than you and your sisters. It's I who am the drone.... Now I must go."
The Miss Watsons outstayed the other guests, and Pamela, remembering
Jean's advice, produced a few stray photographs of relations which were
regarded with much interest and some awe. The photograph of her brother,
Lord Bidborough, they could hardly lay down. Finally, Pamela presented
them with flowers and a basket of apples newly arrived from Bidborough
Manor, and they returned to Balmoral walking on air.
"Such _pleasant_ company and _such_ a tea," said Miss Watson. "She had
out all her best things."
"And Mrs. Jowett and Miss Dawson were asked to meet _us_," exulted Miss
"And very affable they were," added her sister. But when the sisters had
removed their best clothes and were seated in the dining-room with the
cloth laid for supper, Miss Teenie said, "All the same, it's fine to be
back in our own house and not to have to heed about manners." She pulled
a low chair close to the fire as she spoke and spread her skirt back
over her knee and, thoroughly comfortable and at peace with the world,
beamed on her sister, who replied:
"What do you say to having some toasted cheese to our supper?"
"I hear the whaups on windy days
Cry up among the peat
Whaur, on the road that spiels the braes,
I've heard ma ain sheep's feet.
An' the bonnie lambs wi' their canny ways
And the silly yowes that bleat."
_Songs of Angus_.
Mhor, having but lately acquired the art of writing, was fond of
exercising his still very shaky pen where and when he could.
One morning, by reason of neglecting his teeth, and a few other toilet
details, he was able to be downstairs ten minutes before breakfast, and
spent the time in the kitchen, plaguing Mrs. M'Cosh to let him write an
inscription in her Bible.
"What wud ye write?" she asked suspiciously.
"I would write," said Mhor--"I would write, 'From Gervase Taunton to
"That wud be a lee," said Mrs. M'Cosh, "for I got it frae ma sister
Annie, her that's in Australia. Here see, there's a post-caird for ye.
It's a rale nice yin.--Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. There's Annackers'
shope as plain's plain."
Mhor looked discontentedly at the offering. "I wish," he said
slowly--"I wish I had a post-card of a hippopotamus being sick."
"Ugh, you want unnaitural post-cairds. Think on something wise-like,
like a guid laddie."
Mhor considered. "If you give me a sheet of paper and an envelope I
might write to the Lion at the Zoo."
For the sake of peace Mrs. M'Cosh produced the materials, and Mhor sat
down at the table, his elbows spread out, his tongue protruding. He had
only managed "Dear Lion," when Jean called him to go upstairs and wash
his teeth and get a clean handkerchief.
The sun was shining into the dining-room, lighting up the blue china on
the dresser, and catching the yellow lights in Jean's hair.
"What a silly morning for November," growled Jock. "What's the sun going
on shining like that for? You'd think it thought it was summer."
"In winter," said Mhor, "the sky should always be grey. It's more
"What a couple of ungrateful creatures you are," Jean said; "I'm ashamed
of you. And as it happens you are going to have a great treat because of
the good day. I didn't tell you because I thought it would very likely
pour. Cousin Lewis said if it was a good day he would send the car to
take us to Laverlaw to luncheon. It's really because of Pamela; she has
never been there. So you must ask to get away at twelve, Jock, and I'll
go up with Pamela and collect Mhor."
Mhor at once left the table and, without making any remark, stood on
his head on the hearthrug. Thus did his joy find vent. Jock, on the
other hand, seemed more solemnised than gleeful.
"That's the first time I've ever had a prayer answered," he announced.
"I couldn't do my Greek last night, and I prayed that I wouldn't be at
the class--and I won't be. Gosh, Maggie!"
"Oh, Jock," his sister protested, "that's not what prayers are for."
"Mebbe not, but I've managed it this time," and, unrepentant, Jock
started on another slice of bread and butter.
Jean told Pamela of Jock's prayer as they went together to fetch Mhor
"But Mhor is a much greater responsibility than Jock. You know where you
are with Jock: underneath is a bedrock of pure goodness. You see, we
start with the enormous advantage of having had forebears of the very
decentest--not great, not noble, but men who feared God and honoured the
King--men who lived justly and loved mercy. It would be most uncalled
for of us to start out on bypaths with such a straight record behind us.
But Mhor, bless him, is different. I haven't a notion what went to the
making of him. I seem to see behind him a long line of men and women who
danced and laughed and gambled and feasted, light-hearted, charming
people. I sometimes think I hear them laugh as I teach Mhor _What is the
chief end of man?_ ... I couldn't love Mhor more if he really were my
little brother, but I know that my hold over him is of the frailest.
It's only now that I have him. I must make the most of the present--the
little boy days--before life takes him away from me."
"You will have his heart always," Pamela comforted her. "He won't
forget. He has been rooted and grounded in love."
Jean winked away the tears that had forced their way into her eyes, and
"I'm bringing him up a Presbyterian. I did try him with the Creed. He
listened politely, and said carelessly, 'It all seems rather sad--Pilate
is a nice name, but not Pontius.' Then Jock laughed at him learning,
'What is your name, A or B?' and Mhor himself preferred to go to the
root of the matter with our Shorter Catechism, and answer nobly if
obscurely--_Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for
ever_. Indeed, he might be Scots in his passion for theology. The other
night he went to bed very displeased with me, and said, 'You needn't
read me any more of that narsty Bible,' but when I went up to say
good-night he greeted me with, '_How_ can I keep the commandments when I
can't even remember what they are?' ... This is Mhor's school, or rather
Miss Main's school."
They went up the steps of a pretty, creeper-covered house.
"It once belonged to an artist," Jean explained. "There is a great big
light studio at the back which makes an ideal schoolroom. It's an ideal
school altogether. Miss Main and her young stepsister are born teachers,
full of humour and understanding, as well as being brilliantly
clever--far too clever really for this job; but if they don't mind we
needn't complain. They get the children on most surprisingly, and teach
them all sorts of things outside their lessons. Mhor is always
astonishing me with his information about things going on in the
world.... Yes, do come in. They won't mind. You would like to see the
"I would indeed. But won't Miss Main object to us interrupting--"
Miss Main at once reassured her on that point, and said that both she
and the scholars loved visitors. She took them into the large schoolroom
where twenty small people of various sizes sat with their books, very
cheerfully imbibing knowledge.
Mhor and another small boy occupied one desk.
Jean greeted the small boy as "Sandy," and asked him what he was
studying at that moment.
"I don't know," said Sandy.
"Sandy," said Miss Main, "don't disgrace your teachers. You know you are
learning the multiplication table. What are three times three?"
Sandy merely looked coy.
"Six," said Mhor, after some thought.
"Hopeless," said Miss Main. "Come and speak to my sister Elspeth, Miss
"My sister Elspeth" was a tall, fair girl with merry blue eyes.
"Do you teach the Mhor?" Pamela asked her.
"I have that honour," said Miss Elspeth, and began to laugh. "He always
arrives full of ideas. This morning he had thought out a plan to stop
the rain. The sky, he said, must be gone over with glue, but he gave it
up when he remembered how sticky it would be for the angels.... He has
the most wonderful feeling for words of any child I ever taught. He
can't, for instance, bear to hear a Bible story told in everyday
language. The other children like it broken down to them, but Mhor
pleads for 'the real words.' He likes the swing and majesty of them....
I was reading them Kipling's story, _Servants of the Queen_, the other
day. You know where it makes the oxen speak of the walls of the city
falling, 'and the dust went up as though many cattle were coming home.'
I happened to look up, and there was Mhor with lamps lit in those
wonderful green eyes of his, gazing at me. He said, 'I like that bit.
It's a nice bit. I think it should be at the end of a sad story.' And he
uses words well himself, have you noticed? The other day he came and
thrust a dead field-mouse into my hand. I squealed and dropped it, and
he said, 'Afraid? And of such a calm little gentleman?'"
Pamela asked if Mhor's behaviour was good.
"Only fair," said pretty Miss Elspeth. "He always means to be good, but
he is inhabited by an imp of mischief that prompts him to do the most
improbable things. He certainly doesn't make for peace in the school,
but he keeps 'a body frae languor.' I like a naughty boy myself much
better than a good one. He's the 'more natural beast of the twain.'"
Outside, with the freed Mhor capering before them, Pamela was
enthusiastic over the little school and its mistresses.
"Miss Main looks like an old miniature, with her white hair and her
delicate colouring, and is wise and kind and sensible as well; and as
for that daffodil girl, Elspeth, she is a sheer delight."
"Yes," Jean agreed. "Hasn't she charming manners? It is so good for the
children to be with her. She is so polite to them that they can't be
anything but gentle and considerate in return. Heaps of girls would
think school-marming very dull, but Elspeth makes it into a sort of
daily entertainment. They manage, she and her sister, to make the
dullest child see some glimmer of reason in learning lessons. I do wish
I had had a teacher like that. I had a governess who taught me like a
parrot. She had no notion how to make the dry bones live. I thought I
scored by learning as little as I possibly could. The consequence is I'm
almost entirely illiterate.... There's the car waiting, and Jock
prancing impatiently. Run in for your thick coat, Mhor. No, you can't
take Peter. He chased sheep last time and fought the other dogs and made
himself a nuisance."
Mhor was now pleading that he might sit in the front beside the
chauffeur and cry "Honk, honk," as they went round corners.
"Well," said Jean, "choose whether it will be going or coming back. Jock
must sit there one time."
Mhor, as he always did, grasped the pleasure of the moment, and
clambered into the seat beside the chauffeur, an old and valued friend,
whom he greeted familiarly as "Tam."
The road to Laverlaw ran through the woods behind Peel, dipped into the
Manor Valley and, emerging, made straight for the hills, which closed
down round it as though jealous of the secrets they guarded. It seemed
to a stranger as if the road led nowhere, for nothing was to be seen for
miles except bare hillsides and a brawling burn. Suddenly the road took
a turn, a white bridge spanned the noisy Laverlaw Water, and there at
the opening of a wide, green glen stood the house.
Lewis Elliot was waiting at the doorstep to greet them. He had been out
all morning, and with him were his two dogs, Rab and Wattie. Jock and
Mhor threw themselves on them with many-endearing names, before they
even looked at their host.
"Is luncheon ready?" was Mhor's greeting.
"Why? Are you hungry?"
"Oh yes, but it's not that. I wondered if there would be time to go to
the stables. Tam says there are some new puppies."
"I'd keep the puppies for later, if I were you," Lewis Elliot advised.
"You'd better have luncheon while your hands are fairly clean. Jean will
be sure to make you wash them if you go mucking about in the stables."
Mhor nodded. He was no Jew, and took small pleasure in the outward
cleansing of the cup and platter. Soap and water seemed to him almost
quite unnecessary, and he had greatly admired and envied the Laplanders
since Jock had told him that that hardy race rarely, if ever, washed.
"I hope you weren't cold in that open car," Lewis Elliot said as he
helped Pamela and Jean to remove their wraps. "D'you mind coming into my
den? It's warm, if untidy. The drawing-room is so little used that it's
about as cheerful as a tomb."
He led them through the panelled hall, down a long passage hung with
sporting prints, into what was evidently a much-liked and much-used
Books were everywhere, lining the walls, lying in heaps on tables, some
even piled on the floor, but a determined effort had evidently been made
to tidy things a little, for papers had been collected into bundles,
pipes had been thrust into corners, and bowls of chrysanthemums stood
about to sweeten the tobacco-laden atmosphere.
A large fire burned on the hearth, and Lewis pulled up some
masculine-looking arm-chairs and asked the ladies to sit in them, but
Jean along with Jock and Mhor were already engrossed in books, and their
neglected host looked at them with disgust.
"Such are the primitive manners of the Jardine family," he said to
Pamela. "If you want a word out of them you must lock up all printed
matter before they approach. Thank goodness, that's the gong! They can't
read while they're feeding."
"Honourable," said Mhor, as they ate their excellent luncheon. "Isn't
Laverlaw a lovely place?"
Pamela agreed. "I never saw anything so indescribably green. It wears
the fairy livery. I can easily picture True Thomas walking by that
"Long ago," said Jock in his gruff voice, "there was a keep at Laverlaw
instead of a house, and Cousin Lewis' ancestors stole cattle from
England, and there were some fine fights in this glen. Laverlaw Water
would run red with blood."
"Jock," Jean protested, "you needn't say it with such relish."
Pamela turned to her host.
"Priorsford seems to think you find yourself almost too contented at
Laverlaw. Mrs. Hope says you are absorbed in sheep."
Lewis Elliot looked amused. "I can imagine the scorn Mrs. Hope put into
her voice as she said 'sheep.' But one must be absorbed in
something--why not sheep?"
"I like a sheep," said Jock, and he quoted:
"'Its conversation is not deep,
But then, observe its face.'"
"You may be surprised to hear," said Lewis, "that sheep are almost like
fine ladies in their ways: they have megrims, it appears. I found one
the other day lying on the hill more or less dead to the world, and I
went a mile or two out of my way to tell the shepherd. All he said was,
'I ken that yowe. She aye comes ower dwamy in an east wind.' ... But
tell me, Jean, how is Miss Reston conducting herself in Priorsford?"
"With the greatest propriety, I assure you," Pamela replied for herself.
"Aren't I, Jean? I have dined with Mrs. Duff-Whalley and been
introduced to 'the County.' You were regrettably absent from that august
gathering, I seem to remember. I have lunched with the Jowetts, and left
the table without a stain either on the cloth or my character, but it
was a great nervous strain. I thought of you, Jock, old man, and deeply
sympathised with your experience. I have been to quite a lot of
tea-parties, and I have given one or two. Indeed, I am becoming as
absorbed in Priorsford as you are in sheep."
"You have been to Hopetoun, I know."
"Yes, but don't mix that up with ordinary tea-parties That is an
experience to keep apart. She holds the imagination, that old woman,
with her sharp tongue, and her haggard, beautiful eyes, and her dead
sons. To know Mrs. Hope and her daughter is something to be thankful
"I quite agree. The Hopes do much to leaven the lump. But I expect you
find it rather a lump."
"Honestly, I don't. I'm not being superior, please don't think so, or
charitable, or pretending to find good in everything, but I do like the
Priorsford people. Some of them are interesting, and nearly all of them
"Even Mrs. Duff-Whalley?"
"Well, she is rather a caricature, but there are oddly nice bits about
her, if only she weren't so overpoweringly opulent. The ospreys in her
hat seem to shriek money, and her furs smother one, and that house of
hers remains so starkly new. If only creepers would climb up and hide
its staring red-and-white face, and ivy efface some of the decorations,
but no--I expect she likes it as it is. But there is something honest
about her very vulgarity. She knows what she wants and goes straight for
it; and she isn't a fool. The daughter is. She was intended by nature to
be a dull young woman with a pretty face, but not content with that she
puts on an absurdly skittish manner--oh, so ruthlessly bright--talks
what she thinks is smart slang, poses continually, and wears clothes
that would not be out of place at Ascot, but are a positive offence to
the little grey town. I hadn't realised how gruesome provincial
smartness could be until I met Muriel Duff-Whalley."
"Oh, poor Muriel!" Jean protested. "You've done for her anyway. But
you're wrong in thinking her stupid. She only comes to The Rigs when she
isn't occupied with smart friends and is rather dull--I don't see her in
her more exalted moments; but I assure you, after she has done talking
about 'the County,' and after the full blast of 'dear Lady Tweedie' is
over, she is a very pleasant companion, and has nice delicate sorts of
thoughts. She's really far too clever to be as silly as she sometimes
is--I can't quite understand her. Perhaps she does it to please her
"Jean's disgustingly fond of finding out the best in people," Pamela
"Priorsford is a most charming town," said Mr. Elliot, "but I never find
its inhabitants interesting."
"No," Jean said, "but you don't try, do you? You stay here in your
'wild glen sae green,' and only have your own friends to visit you--"
"Are you," Pamela asked Lewis, "like a woman I know who boasts that she
knows no one in her country place, but gets her friends and her fish
"No, I'm not in the least exclusive, only rather _blate_, and, I
suppose, uninterested. Do you know, I was rather glad to hear you begin
to slang the unfortunate Miss Duff-Whalley. It was more like the Pamela
Reston I used to know. I didn't recognise her in the tolerant,
"Oh," cried Pamela, "you are cruel to the girl I once was. The years
mellow. Surely you welcome improvement, even while you remind me of my
sins and faults of youth."
"I don't think," Lewis Elliot said slowly, "that I ever allowed myself
to think that the Pamela Reston I knew needed improvement. That would
have savoured of sacrilege.... Are we finished? We might have coffee in
the other room."
Pamela looked at her host as she rose from the table, and said, "Years
have brought clearer eyes for faults."
"I wonder," said Lewis Elliot, as he put a large chocolate into Mhor's
Before going home they went for a walk up the glen. Jean and the boys,
very much at home, were in front, while Lewis named the surrounding
hills and explained the lie of the land to Pamela. They fell into talk
of younger days, and laughed over episodes they had not thought of for
"And, do you know, Biddy's coming home?" Pamela said. "I keep
remembering that with a most delightful surprise. I haven't seen him for
more than a year--my beloved Biddy!"
"He was a most charming boy," Lewis said. "I suppose he would be about
fifteen when last I saw him. How old is he now?"
"Thirty-five. But such a young thirty-five. He has always been doing the
most youth-preserving things, chasing over the world after adventures,
like a boy after butterflies, seeing new peoples, walking in untrodden
ways. If he had lived in more spacious days he would have sailed with
Francis Drake and helped to singe the King of Spain's beard. Oh, I do
think you will still like Biddy. The charm he had at fifteen he hasn't
lost one little bit. He has still the same rather shy manner and slow
way of speaking and sudden, affection-winning smile. The War has changed
him of course, emptied and saddened his life, and he isn't the
light-foot lad he was six years ago. When it was all over he went off
for one more year's roving. He has a great project which I don't suppose
will ever be accomplished--to climb Everest. He and three great friends
had arranged it all before the War, but everything of course was
stopped, and whatever happens he will never climb it with those three
friends. They had to scale greater heights than Everest. It is a sober
and responsible Biddy who is coming back, to settle down and look after
his places, and go into politics, perhaps--"
They walked together in comfortable silence.
Jean, in front, turned round and waved to them.
"I'm glad," said Lewis, "that you and Jean have made friends. Jean--" He
Pamela stood very still for a second, and then said, "Yes?"
"Jean and her brothers are sort of cousins of mine. I've always been
fond of them, and my mother and I used to try to give them a good time
when we could, for Great-aunt Alison's was rather an iron rule. But a
man alone is such a helpless object, as Mrs. Hope often reminds me. It
isn't fair that Jean shouldn't have her chance. She never gets away, and
her youth is being spoiled by care. She is such a quaint little person
with her childlike face and motherly ways! I do wish something could be
"Jean must certainly have her chance," said Pamela. She took a long
breath, as if she had been under water and had come to the surface.
"I've said nothing about it to anyone, but I am greatly hoping that some
arrangement can be made about sending the boys away to school and
letting me carry off Jean. I want her to forget that she ever had to
think about money worries. I want her to play with other boys and girls.
I want her to marry."
"Yes, that would be a jolly good scheme." Lewis Elliot's voice was
hearty in its agreement. "It really is exceedingly kind of you. You've
lifted a weight from my mind--though what business I have to push my
weights on to you.... Yes, Jean, perhaps we ought to be turning back.
The car is ordered for four o'clock. I wish you would stay to tea, but I
expect you are dying to get back to Priorsford. That little town has you
in its thrall."
"I wish," said Jock, "that The Rigs could be lifted up by some magician
and plumped down in Laverlaw Glen."
"Oh, Jock, wouldn't that be fine?" sighed the Mhor. "Plumped right down
at the side of the burn, and then we could fish out of the windows."
The sun had left the glen, the Laverlaw Water ran wan; it seemed
suddenly to have become a wild and very lonely place.
"Now I can believe about the raiders coming over the hills in an autumn
twilight," said Pamela. "There is something haunted about this place. In
Priorsford we are all close together and cosy: that's what I love about
"You've grown quite suburban," Lewis taunted her. "Jean, I was told a
story about two Priorsford ladies the other day. They were in London and
went to see Pavlova dance at the Palace, for the first time. It was her
last appearance that season, and the curtain went down on Pavlova
embedded in bouquets, bowing her thanks to an enraptured audience, the
house rocking with enthusiasm. The one Priorsford lady turned to the
other Priorsford lady and said, 'Awfully like Mrs. Wishart!'"
As the car moved off, Jock's voice could be heard asking, "And who _was_
"Hast any philosophy in thee?"
_As You Like It_.
Miss Bella Bathgate was a staunch supporter of the Parish Kirk. She had
no use for any other denomination, and no sympathy with any but the
Presbyterian form of worship. Episcopalians she regarded as beneath
contempt, and classed them in her own mind with "Papists"--people who
were more mischievous and almost as ignorant as "the heathen" for whom
she collected small sums quarterly, and for whom the minister prayed as
"sitting in darkness." Miss Bathgate had developed a real, if somewhat
contemptuous, affection for Mawson, her lodger's maid, but she never
ceased to pour scorn on her "English ways" and her English worship. If
Mawson had not been one of the gentlest of creatures she would not have
tolerated it for a day.
One wet and windy evening Bella sat waiting for Mawson to come in to
supper. She had gone to a week-night service at the church, greatly
excited because the Bishop was to be present. The supper was ready and
keeping hot in the oven, the fire sparkled in the bright range, and
Bella sat crocheting and singing to herself, "From Greenland's icy
mountains." For Bella was passionately interested in missions. The needs
of the heathen lay on her heart. Every penny she could scrape together
went into "the box." The War had reduced her small income, and she could
no longer live without letting her rooms, but whatever she had to do
without her contributions to missions never faltered; indeed, they had
increased. Missions were the romance of her life. They put a scarlet
thread into the grey. The one woman she had ever envied was Mary Slessor
Mawson came in much out of breath, having run up the hill to get out of
"Weel, and hoo's the Bishop?" Bella said in jocular tones.
"Ow, 'e was lovely. 'E said the Judgment was 'anging over all of us."
"Oh, wumman," said Bella, as she dumped a loaf viciously on the platter,
"d'ye need a Bishop to tell ye that? I'm sure I've kent it a' ma days."
"It gives me the creeps to think of it. Imagine standin' h'up before
h'all the earth and 'aving all your little bits o' sins fetched out
against you! But"--hopefully--"I don't see myself 'ow there'll be time."
"Ay, there'll be time! There'll be a' Eternity afore us, and as far as I
can see there'll be naething else to do."
"Ow," Mawson wailed. "You do make it sound so 'orrid, Bella. The Bishop
was much more comfortable, and 'e 'as such a nice rosy face you can't
picture anything very bad 'appening to 'im. But I suppose Bishops'll be
judged like everyone else."
"They will that." Bella's tone was emphatic, almost vindictive.
"Oh, well," said Mawson, who looked consistently on the bright sides, "I
dare say they won't pay much h'attention to the likes of us when they've
Kings and Bishops and M.P.'s and London ladies to judge. Their sins will
be a bit more interestin' than my little lot.... Well, I'll be glad of a
cup of tea, for it's thirsty work listening to sermons. I'll just lay me
'at and coat down 'ere, if you don't mind, Bella. Now, this is cosy. I
was thinkin' of this as I came paddin' over the bridge listening to the
sound of the wind and the water. A river's a frightenin' sort of thing
at night and after 'earin' about the Judgment too."
Miss Bathgate took a savoury-smelling dish from the oven and put it,
along with two hot plates, before Mawson, then put the teapot before
herself and they began.
"Whaur's Miss Reston the nicht?" Bella asked, as she helped herself to
hot buttered toast.
"Dinin' with Sir John and Lady Tweedie. She's wearin' a lovely new gown,
sort of yellow. It suited her a treat. I must say she did look noble.
She is 'andsome, don't you think?"
"Terrible lang and lean," said Miss Bathgate. "But I'm no denyin' that
there's a kind o' look aboot her that's no common. She would mak' a guid
queen if we had ony need o' anither." "She makes a good mistress
anyway," said loyal Mawson.
"Oh, she's no bad," Bella admitted. "An' I must say she disna gie much
trouble--but it's an idle life for ony wumman. I canna see why Miss
Reston, wi' a' her faculties aboot her, needs you hingin' round her.
Mercy me, what's to hinder her pu'in ribbons through her ain
underclothes, if ribbons are necessary, which they're not. There's Mrs.
Muir next door, wi' six bairns, an' a' the wark o' the hoose to dae an'
washin's forbye, an' here's Miss Reston never liftin' a finger except to
pu' silk threads through a bit stuff. That's what makes folk
Mawson, who belonged to that fast disappearing body, the real servant
class, and who, without a thought of envy, delighted in the possession
of her mistress, looked sadly puzzled.
"But, Beller, don't you think things work out more h'even than they
seem? Mrs. Muir next door works very 'ard. I've seen her put out a
washin' by seven o'clock in the morning, but then she 'as a good 'usband
and an 'ealthy family and much pleasure in 'er work. Miss Reston lies
soft and drinks her mornin' tea in comfort, but she never knows the
satisfied feelin' that Mrs. Muir 'as when she takes in 'er clean
"Weel, mebbe you're right. I'm nae Socialist masel'. There maun aye be
rich and poor, Dives in the big hoose and Lazarus at the gate. But so
long as we're sure that Dives'll catch it in the end, and Lazarus lie
soft in Abraham's bosom, we can pit up wi' the unfairness here. An'
speakin' about Miss Reston, I dinna mind her no' working. Ye can see by
the look of her that she never was meant to work, but just to get
everything done for her. Can ye picture her peelin' tatties? The verra
thocht's rideeclus. She's juist for lookin' at, like the floors and a'
the bonnie things ... But it's thae new folk that pit up ma birse. That
Mrs. Duff-Whalley, crouse cat! Rollin' aboot wrap up in furs in a great
caur, patronisin' everybody that's daft enough to let theirselves be
patronised by her. Onybody could see she's no used to it. She's so ta'en
up wi' hersel'. It's kinda play-actin' for her ... An' there's naebody
gives less to charitable objects. I suppose when ye've paid and fed sae
mony servants, and dressed yersel' in silks and satins, and bocht every
denty ye can think of, and kept up a great big hoose an' a great muckle
caur, there's no' that much left for the kirk-plate, or the heathen, or
the hospitals ... Oh, it's peetifu'!"
Mawson nodded wisely. "There's plenty Mrs. Duff-Whalleys about; you be
thankful you've only one in the place. Priorsford is a very charitable
place, I think. The poor people here don't know they're born after
London, and the clergy seem very active too."
"Oh, they are that. I daur say they're as guid as is gaun. Mr. Morrison
is a fine man if marriage disna ruin him."
"Oh, surely not!"
"There's no sayin'," said Bella gloomily. "She's young and flighty, but
there's wan thing, she has no money. I kent a minister--he was a kinda
cousin o' ma father's--an' he mairret a heiress and they had late
denner. I tell ye that late denner was the ruin o' that man. It fair got
between him an' his jidgment. He couldna veesit his folk at a wise-like
hour in the evening because he was gaun to hev his denner, and he
couldna get oot late because his leddy-wife wanted him to be at hame
efter denner. There's mony a thing to cause a minister to stumble, for
they're juist human beings after a', but his rich mairrage was John
"Marriage," sighed Mawson, "is a great risk. It's often as well to be
single, but I sometimes think Providence must ha' meant me to 'ave an
'usband--I'm such a clingin' creature."
Such sentiments were most distasteful to Miss Bathgate, that
self-reliant spinster, and she said bitterly:
"Ma wumman, ye're ill off for something to cling to! I never saw the man
yet that I wud be pitten up wi'."
"Ho! I shouldn't say that, but I must say I couldn't fancy a
h'undertaker. Just imagine 'im 'andlin' the dead and then 'andlin' me!"
"Eh, ye nesty cratur," said Bella, much disgusted "But I suppose ye're
meaning _English_ undertakers--men that does naething but work wi'
funerals--a fearsome ill job. Here it's the jiner that does a' thing, so
it's faur mair homely."
"Speakin' about marriages," said Mawson, who preferred cheerful
subjects, "I do enjoy a nice weddin'. The motors and the bridesmaids and
the flowers. Is there no chance of a weddin' 'ere?"
Miss Bathgate shook her head.
"Why not Miss Jean?" Mawson suggested.
Again Miss Bathgate shook her head.
"Nae siller," she said briefly.
"What! No money, you mean? But h'every gentleman ain't after money."
Mawson's expression grew softly sentimental as she added, "Many a one
marries for love, like the King and the beggar-maid."
"Mebbe," said Bella, "but the auld rhyme's oftener true:
"'Be a lassie ne'er sae black,
Gie her but the name o' siller,
Set her up on Tintock tap
An' the wind'll blaw a man till her.
Be a lassie ne'er sae fair,
Gin she hinna penny-siller,
A flea may fell her in the air
Ere a man be evened till her.'
"I would like fine to see Miss Jean get a guid man, for she's no' a bad
lassie, but I doot she'll never manage't."
"Oh, Beller, you do take an 'opeless view of things. I think it's
because you wear black so much. Now I must say I like a bit o' bright
colour. I think it gives one bright thoughts."
"I aye wear black," said Bella firmly, as she carried the supper dishes
to the scullery, "and then, as the auld wifie said, 'Come daith, come
sacrament, I'm ready!'"
"Pray you, sir, how much carnation ribbon, may a man buy for a
remuneration?"--_Comedy of Errors_.
The living-room at The Rigs was the stage of many plays. Its uses ranged
from the tent of a menagerie or the wigwam of an Indian brave to the
Forest of Arden.
This December night it was a "wood near Athens," and to Mhor, if to no
one else, it faithfully represented the original. That true Elizabethan
needed no aids to his imagination. "This is a wood," said Mhor, and a
wood it was. "Is all our company here?" and to him the wood was peopled
by Quince and Snug, by Bottom the weaver, by Puck and Oberon. Titania
and her court he reluctantly admitted were necessary to the play, but he
did not try to visualise them, regarding them privately as blots. The
love-scenes between Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, were
omitted, because Jock said they were "_awful_ silly."
It was Friday evening, so Jock had put off learning his lessons till the
next day, and, as Bully Bottom, was calling over the names of his cast.
"Are we all met?"
"Pat, pat," said Mhor, who combined in his person all the other parts,
"and here's a marvellous convenient place for our rehearsal; this green
plot shall be our stage, this hawthorn brake our tiring-house; and we
will do it in action as we will do it before the duke."
Pamela Reston, in her usual place, the corner of the sofa beside the
fire, threaded her needle with a bright silk thread, and watched the
"Did you ever think," she asked Jean, who sat on a footstool beside
her--a glowing figure in a Chinese coat given her by Pamela, engaged
rather incongruously in darning one of Jock's stockings--"did you ever
think what it must have been like to see a Shakespeare play for the
first time? Was the Globe filled, I wonder, with a quite unexpectant
first night audience? And did they realise that the words they heard
were deathless words? Imagine hearing for the first time:
'When daisies pied and violets blue And lady-smocks all silver
and then--'The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.'
Did you ever try to write, Jean?"
"Pamela," said Jean, "if you drop from Shakespeare to me in that sudden
way you'll be dizzy. I have thought of writing and trying to give a
truthful picture of Scottish life--a cross between _Drumtochty_ and _The
House with the Green Shutters_--but I'm sure I shall never do it. And if
by any chance I did accomplish it, it would probably be reviewed as a
'feebly written story of life in a Scots provincial town,' and then I
would beat my pen into a hatpin and retire from the literary arena. I
wonder how critics can bear to do it. I couldn't sleep at nights for
thinking of my victims--"
"You sentimental little absurdity! It wouldn't be honest to praise poor
Jean shook her head. "They could always be a little kind ... Pamela, I
love myself in this coat. You can't think what a delight colours are to
me." She stopped, and then said shyly, "You have brought colour into all
our lives. I can see now how drab they were before you came."
"Oh dear, no, Jean, your life was never drab. It could never be drab
whatever your circumstances, you have so much happiness within yourself.
I don't think anything in life could ever quite down you, and even
death--what of death, Jean?"
Jean looked up from her stocking. "As Boswell said to Dr. Johnson, 'What
of death, Sir?' and the great man was so angry that the little
twittering genius should ask lightly of such a terrifying thing that he
barked at him and frightened him out of the room! I suppose the ordinary
thing is never to think about death at all, to keep the thought pushed
away. But that makes people so _afraid_ of it. It's such a bogey to
them. The Puritans went to the other extreme and dressed themselves in
their grave-clothes every day. Wasn't it Samuel Rutherford who advised
people to 'forefancy their latter end'? I think that's where Great-aunt
Alison got the idea; she certainly made us 'forefancy' ours! But apart
from what death may mean to each of us--life itself gets all its meaning
from death. If we didn't know that we had all to die we could hardly go
on living, could we?"
"Well," said Pamela, "it would certainly be difficult to bear with
people if their presence and our own were not utterly uncertain. And if
we knew with surety when we rose in the morning that for another forty
years we would go on getting up, and having a bath and dressing, we
would be apt to expire with ennui. We rise with alacrity because we
don't know if we shall ever put our clothes on again."
Jean gave a little jump of expectation. "It's frightfully interesting.
You never do know when you get up in the morning what will happen before
"Most people find that a little wearing. It isn't always nice things
that happen, Jean."
"Not always, of course, but far more nice things than nasty ones."
"Jean, I'm afraid you're a chirping optimist. You'll reduce me to the
depths of depression if you insist on being so bright. Rather help me to
rail against fate, and so cheer me."
"Do you realise that Davie will be home next week?" said Jean, as if
that were reason enough for any amount of optimism. "I think, on the
whole, he has enjoyed his first term, but he was pretty homesick at
first. He never actually said so, but he told us in one letter that he
smelt the tea when he made it, for it was the one thing that reminded
him of home. And another time he spoke with passionate dislike of the
pollarded trees, because such things are unknown on Tweedside. I'm so
glad he has made quite a lot of friends. I was afraid he might be so shy
and unforthcoming that he would put people off, but he writes
enthusiastically about the men he is with. It is good for him to be made
to leave his work, and play games; he is keen about his footer and they
think he will row well! The man who has rooms on the same staircase
seems a very good sort. I forget who he is--it's quite a well-known
family--but he has been uncommonly kind to Davie. He wants him to go
home with him next week, but of course Davie is keen to get back to
Priorsford. Besides, you can't visit the stately homes of England on
thirty shillings, and that's about Davie's limit, dear lamb! Jock and
Mhor are looking forward with joy to hear him speak. They expect his
accent to have suffered an Oxford change, and Jock doesn't think he will
be able to remain in the room with him and not laugh."
"I expect Jock will be 'affronted,'" said Pamela. "But you aren't the
only one who is expecting a brother, Jean, girl. Any moment I may hear
that Biddy is in London. He wired from Port Said that he would come
straight to Priorsford. I wonder whether I should take rooms for him in
the Hydro, or in one of these nice old hotels in the Nethergate? I wish
I could crush him into Hillview, but there isn't any room, alas!"
"I wish," said Jean, and stopped. She had wanted in her hospitable way
to say that Pamela's brother must come to The Rigs, but she checked the
impulse with a fear that it was an absurd proposal. She was immensely
interested in this brother of Pamela's. All she had heard of him
appealed to her imagination, for Jean, cumbered as she was with domestic
cares, had an adventurous spirit, and thrilled to hear of the perils of
the mountains, the treks behind the ranges for something hidden, all the
daring escapades of an adventure-loving young man with time and money at
his disposal. She had made a hero of Pamela's "Biddy," but now that she
was to see him she shrank from the meeting. Suppose he were a
supercilious sort of person who would be bored with the little town and
the people in it. And the fact that he had a title complicated matters,
Jean thought. She could not imagine herself talking naturally to Lord
Bidborough. Besides, she thought, she didn't know in the least how to
talk to men; she so seldom met any.
"I expect," she broke out after a silence, "your brother will take you
"For Christmas, I think," said Pamela, "but I shall come back again. Do
you realise that I've been here two months, Jean?"
"Does it seem so short to you?"
"In a way it does; the days have passed so pleasantly. And yet I seem to
have been here all my life; I feel so much a part of Priorsford, so akin
to the people in it. It must be the Border blood in my veins. My mother
loved her own country dearly. I have heard my aunt say that she never
felt at home at Bidborough or Mintern Abbas. I am sure she would have
wanted us to know her Scots home, so Biddy and I are going to
Champertoun for Christmas. My mother had no brothers, and everything
went to a distant cousin. He and his wife seem friendly people and they
urge us to visit them."
"That will mean a lovely Christmas for you," Jean said.
Here Mhor stopped being an Athenian reveller to ask that the sofa might
be pushed back. The scene was now the palace of Theseus, and Mhor, as
the Prologue, was addressing an imaginary audience with--"Gentles,
perchance you wonder at this show."
Pamela and Jean removed themselves to the window-seat and listened while
Jock, covered with an old skin rug, gave a realistic presentment of the
Lion, that very gentle beast, and of a good conscience.
The 'tedious brief' scene was drawing to an end, when the door opened
and Mrs. M'Cosh, with a scared look in her eyes and an excited squeak in
her voice, announced, "Lord Bidborough."
A slim, dark young man stood in the doorway, regarding the dishevelled
room. Jock and Mhor were still writhing on the floor, the chairs were
pushed anyway, Pamela's embroidery frame had alighted on the bureau, the
rugs were pulled here and there.
Pamela gave a cry and rushed at her brother, forgetting everything in
the joy of seeing him. Then, remembering her hostess, she turned to
Jean, who still sat on the window-seat, her face flushed and her eyes
dark with excitement, the blood-red mandarin's coat with its embroidery
of blue and mauve and gold vivid against the dark curtains, and said,
"Jean, this is Biddy!"
Jean stood up and held out a shy hand.
"And this is Jock--and Mhor!"
"Having a great game, aren't you?" said the newcomer.
"Not a game," Mhor corrected him, "a play, _Midsummer Night's Dream_."
"No, are you? I once played in it at the O.U.D.S. I wanted to be Bully
Bottom, but I wasn't much good, so they made me Snug the joiner. I
remember the man who played Puck was a wonder, about as light on his
feet and as swift as the real Puck. A jolly play."
"Biddy," said his sister, "why didn't you wire to me? I have taken no
"Oh, that's all right--a porter at the station, a most awfully nice
chap, put me into a sort of fly and sent me to one of the hotels--a
jolly good little inn it is--and they can put me up. Then I asked for
Hillview, mentioning the witching name of Miss Bella Bathgate, and they
sent a boy with me to find the place. Miss Bathgate sent me on here.
Beautifully managed, you see."
He smiled lazily at his sister, who cried:
"The same casual old Biddy! What about dinner?"
"Mayn't I feed with you? I think Miss Bathgate would like me to. And I'm
devoted to stewed beef and carrots. After cold storage food it will be a
most welcome change. But," turning to Jean, "please forgive me arriving
on you like this, and discussing board and lodgings. It's the most
frightful cheek on my part, but, you see, Pam's letters have made me so
well acquainted with The Rigs and everyone in it that I'm afraid I don't
feel the need of ceremony."
"We wouldn't know what to do with ceremony here," said Jean. "But I do
wish the room had been tidier. You will get a bad impression of our
habits--and we are really quite neat as a rule. Jock, take that rug back
to Mrs. M'Cosh and put the sofa right. And, Mhor, do wash your face;
you've got it all smeared with black."
As Jean spoke she moved about, putting things to rights, lifting
cushions, brightening the fire, brushing away fallen cinders.
"That's better. Now don't stand about so uncomfortably Pamela, sit in
your corner; and this is a really comfortable chair, Lord Bidborough."
"I want to look at the books, if I may," said Lord Bidborough. "It's
always the first thing I do in a room. You have a fine collection here."
"They are nearly all my father's books," Jean explained. "We don't add
to them, except, of course, on birthdays and at Christmas, and never
"You have some very rare books--this, for instance."
"Yes. Father treasured that--and have you seen this?"
They browsed among the books for a little, and Jean, turning to Pamela,
said, "I remember the first time you came to see us you did this, too,
walked about and looked at the books."
"I remember," said Pamela; "history repeats itself."
Lord Bidborough stopped before a shelf. "This is a catholic selection."
"Those are my favourite books," said Jean--"modern books, I mean."
"I see." He went along the shelf, naming each book as he came to it.
"_The Long Roll_ and _Cease Firing_. Two great books. I should like to
read them again now."
"Now one could read them," said Jean. "Through the War I tried to, but I
had to stop. The writing was too good--too graphic, somehow...."
"Yes, it would be too poignant.... _John Splendid_. I read that one
autumn in Argyle--slowly--about two chapters a day, making it last as
long as I could."
"Isn't it fine?" said Jean. "John Splendid, who never spoke the truth
except to an enemy! Do you remember the scene with the blind widow of
Glencoe? And John Splendid was so gallant and tactful: 'dim in the
sight,' he called her, for he wouldn't say 'blind'; and then was
terrified when he heard that plague had been in the house, and would
have left without touching the outstretched hand, and Gordon, the
harsh-mannered minister, took it and kissed it, and the blind woman
cried, 'O Clan Campbell, I'll never call ye down--ye may have the guile
they claim for ye, but ye have the way with a woman's heart,' and poor
John Splendid went out covered with shame."
Jean's eyes were shining, and she had forgotten to be awkward and
"I remember," said Lord Bidborough. "And the wonderful descriptions--'I
know corries in Argyle that whisper silken' ... do you remember that?
And the last scene of all when John Splendid rides away?"
"Do you cry over books, Jean?" Pamela asked. She was sitting on the end
of the sofa, her embroidery frame in her hand and her cloak on, ready to
go when her brother had finished looking at Jean's treasures.
Jean shook her head. "Not often. Great-aunt Alison said it was the sign
of a feeble mind to waste tears over fiction, but I have cried. Do you
remember the end of _The Mill on the Floss_? Tom and Maggie have been
estranged, and the flood comes, and Tom goes to save Maggie. He is
rowing when he sees the great mill machinery sweeping down on them, and
he takes Maggie's hand, and calls her the name he had used when they
were happy children together--'_Magsie_!'"
Pamela nodded. "Nothing appeals to you so much as family affection,
Jean, girl. What have you got now, Biddy? _Nelly's Teachers_?"
"Oh, that," said Jean, getting pink--"that's a book I had when I was a
child, and I still like it so much that I read it through every year."
"Oh, Jean, you babe!" Pamela cried. "Can you actually still read
goody-goody girls' stories?"
"Yes," said Jean defiantly, "and enjoy them too."
"And why not?" asked Lord Bidborough. "I enjoy _Huckleberry Finn_ as
much now as I did when I was twelve; and I often yearn after the books I
had as a boy and never see now. I used to lie on my face poring over
them. _The Clipper of the Clouds_, and _Sir Ludar_, and a fairy story
called _Rigmarole in Search of a Soul_, which, I remember, was quite
beautiful, but can't lay hands on anywhere."
Jean looked at him gratefully, and thought to herself that he wasn't
going to be a terrifying person after all. For his age--Jean knew that
he was thirty-five, and had expected something much more mature--he
seemed oddly boyish. He had an expectant young look in his eyes, as if
he were always waiting for some chance of adventure to turn up, and
there were humorous lines about his mouth which seemed to say that he
found the world a very funny place, and was exceedingly well amused.
He certainly seemed very much at home at The Rigs, fondling the rare old
books with the hands of a book lover, inspecting the coloured prints,
chaffing Jock and Mhor, who fawned round him like two puppy dogs. Peter
had at once made friends with him, and Mrs. M'Cosh, coming into the room
on some errand, edged her way out backwards, her eyes fixed on the
newcomer with an approving stare. As she told Jean later: "For a' Andra
pit me against lords, I canna see muckle wrang wi' this yin. A rale
pleasant fellow I tak' him to be, lord or no lord. If they were a' like
him, we wudna need to be Socialists. It's queer I've aye hed a hankerin'
after thae high-born kinna folk. It's that interestin' to watch them. Ye
niver ken whit they'll dae next, or whit they'll say--they're that
audacious. We wud mak' an awfu' dull warld o' it if we pit them a' awa
to Ameriky or somewhere. I often tell't Andra that, but he said it wud
be a guid riddance ... I'm wonderin' what Bella Bathgate thinks o' him.
It'll be great to hear her breath on't. She's quite comin' roond to Miss
Reston. She was tellin' me she disna think there's onything veecious
about her, and she's gettin' quite used to her manners."
* * * * *
When Pamela departed with her brother to partake of a dinner cooked by
Miss Bathgate (a somewhat doubtful pleasure), Mhor went off to bed, and
Jock curled himself up on the sofa with Peter, for his Friday night's
extra hour with a story-book, while Jean resumed her darning of
Her thoughts were full of the sister and brother who had just left.
"Queer they are!" she thought to herself. "If Davie came back to me
after a year in India, I wouldn't have liked to meet him in somebody
else's house. But they seemed quite happy to look at books, and talk
about just anything and play with Jock and Mhor and tease Peter. Now I
expect they'll be talking about their own affairs, but I would have
rushed at the pleasure of hearing all about everything--I couldn't have
waited. Pamela has such a leisured air about everything she does. It's
nice and sort of aloof and quiet--but I could never attain to it. I'm
little and bustling and Martha-like."
Here Jean sighed, and put her fingers through a large hole in the toe of
"I'm only fit to keep house and darn and worry the boys about washing
their ears.... Anyway, I'm glad I had on my Chinese coat."
"Her gown should be of goodliness
Well ribboned with renown,
Purfilled with pleasure in ilk place,
Furred with fine fashion.
Her hat should be of fair having,
And her tippet of truth,
Her patclet of good pansing,
Her neck ribbon of ruth.
Her sleeves should be of esperance
To keep her from despair:
Her gloves of the good governance
To guide her fingers fair.
Her shoes should be of sickerness
In syne she should not slide:
Her hose of honesty I guess
I should for her provide."
_The Garment of Good Ladies_, 1568.
Jock and Mhor looked back on the time Lord Bidborough spent in
Priorsford as one long, rosy dream.
It is true they had to go to school as usual, and learn their home
lessons, but their lack of attention in school-hours must have sorely
tried their teachers, and their home lessons were crushed into the
smallest space of time so as not to interfere with the crowded hours of
glorious living that Lord Bidborough managed to make for them.
That nobleman turned out to be the most gifted player that Jock and
Mhor had ever met. There seemed no end to the games he could invent, and
he played with a zest that carried everyone along with him.
Mhor's great passion was for trains. He was no budding engineering
genius; he cared nothing about knowing what made the wheels go round; it
was the trains themselves, the glorious, puffing, snorting engines, the
comfortable guards' vans, and the signal-boxes that enchanted him. He
thought a signalman's life was one of delirious happiness; he thrilled
at the sight of a porter's uniform, and hoped that one day he too might
walk abroad dressed like that, wheel people's luggage on a trolley and
touch his hat when given tips. It was his great treat to stand on the
iron railway-bridge and watch the trains snorting deliriously
underneath, but the difficulty was he might not go alone, and as
everyone in the house fervently disliked the task of accompanying him,
it was a treat that came all too seldom for the Mhor.
It turned out that Lord Bidborough also delighted in trains, and he not
only stood patiently on the bridge watching goods-trains shunting up and
down, but he made friends with the porters, and took Mhor into
prohibited areas such as signal-boxes and goods sheds, and showed him
how signals were worked, and ran him up and down on trolleys.
One never-to-be-forgotten day a sympathetic engine-driver lifted Mhor
into the engine and, holding him up high above the furnace, told him to
pull a chain, whereupon the engine gave an anguished hoot. Mhor had no
words to express his pleasure, but in an ecstasy of gratitude he seized
the engine-driver's grimy hand and kissed it, leaving that honest man,
who was not accustomed to such ongoings considerably confused.
Jock did not share Mhor's interest in "base mechanic happenings"; his
passion was for the world at large, his motto, "For to admire and for to
see." He had long made up his mind that he must follow some profession
that would take him to far places. Mrs. Hope suggested the Indian Army,
while Mr. Jowett loyally recommended the Indian Civil Service, though he
felt bound in duty to warn Jock that it wasn't what it was in his young
days, and was indeed hardly fit now for a white man.
Jock felt that Mrs. Hope and Mr. Jowett were wise and experienced, but
they were old. In Lord Bidborough he found one who had come hot foot
from the ends of the earth. He had seen with his own eyes, and he could
tell Jock tales that made the coveted far lands live before him; and
Jock fell down and worshipped.
Through the day, while the two boys were interned in school, Pamela took
her brother the long walks over the hills that had delighted her days in
Priorsford. Jean sometimes went with them, but more often she stayed at
home. It was her mission in life, she said, to stay at home and have
meals ready for people when they returned, and it was much better that
the brother and sister should have their walks alone, she told herself.
Excessive selfconfidence was not one of Jean's faults. She was much
afraid of boring people by her presence, and shrank from being the third
that constitutes "a crowd."
One afternoon Lewis Elliot called at The Rigs.
"Sitting alone, Jean? Well, it's nice to find you in. I thought you
would be out with your new friends."
"Lord Bidborough has motored Pamela down Tweed to see some people," Jean
explained. "They asked me to go with them, but I thought I might perhaps
be in the way. Lord Bidborough is frightfully pleased to be able to hire
a motor to drive. On Saturday he has promised to take the boys to
Dryburgh and to the Eildon Hills. Mhor is very keen to see for himself
where King Arthur is buried, and make a search for the horn!"
"I see. It's a pity it isn't a better time of year. December days are
short for excursions.... Isn't Biddy a delightful fellow?"
"Yes. Jock and Mhor worship him. One word from him is more to them than
all the wisdom I'm capable of. It isn't quite fair. After all, I've had
them so long, and they've only known him for a day or two. No, I don't
think I'm jealous. I'm--I'm hurt!" and to Lewis Elliot's great
discomfort Jean took out her handkerchief and openly wiped her eyes, and
then, putting her head on the table, cried.
He sat in much embarrassment, making what he meant to be comforting
ejaculations, until Jean stopped crying and laughed.
"It's wretched of me to make you so uncomfortable. I don't know what's
happened to me. I've suddenly got so silly. And I don't think I like
charming people. Charm is a merciless sort of gift ... and I know he
will take Pamela away, and she made things so interesting. Every day
since he came I seem to have got lonelier and lonelier, and the sight of
your familiar face and the sound of your kind voice finished me.... I'm
quite sensible now, so don't go away. Tea will be in in a minute, and
the boys. Isn't it fine that Davie will be home to-morrow? D'you think
he'll be changed?"
Lewis Elliot stayed to tea, and Jock and Mhor fell on him with
acclamation, and told him wonderful tales of their new friend, and never
noticed the marks of tears on Jean's face.
"Jean, what is Lord Bidborough's Christian name?" Jock asked.
"Oh, I don't know. Richard Plantagenet, I should think."
"Why not? But you'd better ask him. Are you going, Cousin Lewis? When
will you come and see Davie?"
"Let me see. I'm lunching at Hillview on Friday May I come in after
luncheon? Thanks. You must all come up to Laverlaw one day next week.
The puppies are growing up, Mhor, and you're missing all their
puppyhood; that's a pity."
Later in the evening, just before Mhor's bedtime Lord Bidborough came to
The Rigs. Pamela was resting, he explained, or writing letters, or
doing something else, and he had come in to pass the time of day with
"The time of night, you mean," said Mhor ruefully "In ten minutes I'll
have to go to bed."
"Had you a nice time this afternoon?" Jean asked.
"Oh, ripping! Coming up by Tweed in the darkening was heavenly. I wish
you had been with us, Miss Jean. Why wouldn't you come?"
"I had things to do," said Jean primly.
"Couldn't the things have waited? Good days in December are precious,
Miss Jean--and Pam and I are going away next week. Promise you will go
with us next time--on Saturday, to the Eildon Hills."
"What's your Christian name, please?" Jock broke in suddenly,
remembering the discussion. "Jean says it's Richard Plantagenet--_is_
Jean flushed an angry pink, and said sharply:
"Don't be silly, Jock. I was only talking nonsense."
"Well, what is it?" Jock persisted.
"It's not quite Richard Plantagenet, but it's pretty bad. My name given
me by my godmother and godfathers is--Quintin Reginald Fuerbras."
"Gosh, Maggie!" ejaculated Jock. "Earls in the streets of Cork!"
"I knew," said Jean, "that it would be something very
"It's not, I grant, such a jolly name as yours," said Lord
"Oh, mine is Penny-plain," said Jean hurriedly.
"Must we always call you Lord?" Mhor asked.
"Of course you must," Jean said. "Really, Mhor, you and Jock are
sometimes very stupid."
"Indeed you must not," said Lord Bidborough. "Forgive me, Miss Jean, if
I am undermining your authority, but, really, one must have some say in
what one is to be called. Why not call me Biddy?"
"That might be too familiar," said Jock. "I think I would rather call
you Richard Plantagenet."
"Because it isn't my name?"
"It sort of suits you," Jock said.
"I like long names," said Mhor.
"Will you call me Richard Plantagenet, Miss Jean?"
The yellow lights in Jean's eyes sparkled. "If you'll call me
Penny-plain," she said.
"Then that's a bargain, though I don't think either of us is well
suited. However--now that we are really friends, what did you do this
afternoon that was so very important?"
"Talked to Lewis Elliot for one thing: he came to tea."
"I see. An excellent fellow, Lewis. He's a relation of yours, isn't he?"
"A very distant one, but we have so few relations we are only too glad
to claim him. He has been a very good friend to us always.... Mhor, you
really must go to bed now."
"Oh, all right, but I don't think it's very polite to go to bed when a
visitor's in. It might make him think he ought to go away."
Lord Bidborough laughed, and assured Mhor that he appreciated his
delicacy of feeling.
"There's a thing I want to ask you, anyway," said Mhor.--"Yes, I'm going
to bed, Jean. Whether do you think Quentin Durward or Charlie Chaplin
would be the better man in a fight?"
Lord Bidborough gave the matter some earnest thought, and decided on
"I told you that," said. Jock to Mhor. "Now, perhaps, you'll believe
"I don't know," said Mhor, still doubtful. "Of course Quentin Durward
had his sword--but you know that way Charlie has with a stick?"
"Well, anyway, go to bed," said Jean, "and stop talking about that
horrible little man. He oughtn't to be mentioned in the same breath as
Mhor went out of the room still arguing.
The next day David came home.
The whole family, including Peter, were waiting on the platform to
welcome him, but Mhor was too interested in the engine and Jock too
afraid of showing sentiment to pay much attention to him, and it was
left to Jean and Peter to express joy at his return.
At first it seemed to Jean that it was a different David who had come
back. There was an indefinable change even in his appearance. True, he
wore the same Priorsford clothes that he had gone away in, but he
carried himself better, with more assurance. His round, boyish face had
taken on a slightly graver and more responsible look, and his accent
certainly had an Oxford touch. Enough, anyhow, to send Jock and Mhor
out of the room to giggle convulsively in the lobby. To Jean's relief
David noticed nothing; he was too busy telling Jean his news to trouble
about the eccentric behaviour of the two boys.
David would hardly have been human if he had not boasted a little that
first night. He had often pictured to himself just how it would be. Jean
would sit by the fire and listen, and he would sit on the old
comfortable sofa and recount all the doings of his first term, tell of
his friends, his tutors, his rooms, the games, the fun--all the details
of the wonderful new life. And it had happened just as he had pictured
it--lucky David! The room had looked as he had known it would look, with
a fire that sparkled as only Jean's fire ever sparkled, and Jean's
eyes--Jean's "doggy" eyes, as Mhor called them--were lit with interest;
and Jock and Mhor and Peter crept in after a little and lay on the rug
and gazed up at him, a quiet and most satisfactory audience.
Jean felt a little in awe of this younger brother of hers, who had
suddenly grown a man and spoke with an air of authority. She had an ache
at her heart for the Davie who had been a little boy and content to
lean; she seemed hardly to know this new David. But it was only for a
little. When Jock and Mhor had gone to bed, the brother and sister sat
over the fire talking, and David forgot all his new importance and
ceased to "buck," and told Jean all his little devices to save money,
and how he had managed just to scrape along.
"If only everyone else were poor as well," said Jean, "then it wouldn't
"That's just it; but it's so difficult doing things with men who have
loads of money. It never seems to occur to them that other people
haven't got it. Of course I just say I can't afford to do things, but
that's awkward too, for they look so surprised and sort of ashamed, and
it makes me feel a prig and a fool. I think having a lot of money takes
away people's imagination."
"Oh, it does," Jean agreed.
"Anyway," David went on, "it's up to me to make some money. I hate
sponging on you, old Jean, and I'm not going to do it. I've been trying
my hand at writing lately and--I've had two things accepted."
Jean all but fell into the fire in her surprise and delight.
"Write! You! Oh, Davie, how utterly splendid!"
A torrent of questions followed, which David answered as well as he
"Yes, they are printed, and paid for, and what's more I've spent the
money." He brought out from his pocket a small leather case which he
handed to his sister.
"For me? Oh, David!" Her hands shook as she opened the box and disclosed
a small brooch, obviously inexpensive but delicately designed.
"It's nothing," said David, walking away from the emotion in his
sister's face. "With the rest of the money I got presents for the boys
and Mrs. M'Cosh and Peter, but they'd better be kept out of sight till
Truth to tell, he had meant to keep the brooch also out of sight till
Christmas, but the temptation to see Jean's pleasure had been too
strong. This Jean divined and, with happy tears in her eyes, handed it
back to him to keep till the proper giving-day arrived.
The next day David was introduced to Pamela and her brother, and was
pleased to pronounce well of them. He had been inclined to be
distrustful about the entrance of such exotic creatures as they sounded
into the quiet of Priorsford, but having seen and talked to them he
assured his sister they were quite all right.
Why, Lord Bidborough had been at David's own college--that alone was
recommendation enough. His feats, too, were still remembered, not feats
of scholarship--oh no, but of mountaineering on the college roofs. He
had not realised when Jean mentioned Lord Bidborough in her letters that
it was the same man who was still spoken of by undergraduates with bated
Of Pamela, David attempted no criticism. How could he? He was at her
feet, and hardly dared lift his eyes to her face. A smile or two, a few
of Pamela's softly spoken sentences, and David had succumbed. Not that
he allowed her--or anyone else--to know it. He kept at a respectable
distance, and worshipped in silence.
One evening while Pamela sat stitching at her embroidery in the little
parlour at Hillview her brother laid down the book he was reading, lit a
cigarette, and said suddenly, "What of the Politician, Pam?"
Pamela drew the thread in and out several times before she answered.
"The Politician is safe so far as I'm concerned. Only last week I wrote
and explained matters to him. He wrote a very nice letter in reply. I
think, on the whole, he is much relieved, though he expressed polite
regret. It must be rather a bore at sixty to become possessed of a wife,
even though she might be able to entertain well and manage people.... It
was a ridiculous idea always; I see that now."
Lord Bidborough regarded his sister with an amused smile. "I always did
regard the Politician as a fabulous monster. But tell me, Pam, how long
is this to continue? Are you so enamoured of the simple life that you
can go on indefinitely living in Miss Bathgate's parlour and eating
stewed steak and duck's eggs?"
Pamela dropped her embroidery-frame, looked at her brother with a
puzzled frown, and gave a long sigh.
"Oh, I don't know," she said--"I don't know. Of course it can't go on
indefinitely, but I do hate the thought of going away and leaving it
all. I love the place. It has given me a new feeling about life; it has
taught me contentment: I have found peace here. If I go back to the old
restless, hectic life I shall be, I'm afraid, just as restless and
feverishly anxious to be happy as I used to be. And yet, I suppose, I
must go back. I've almost had the three months I promised myself. But
I'm going to try and take Jean with me. Lewis Elliot and I mean to
arrange things so that Jean can have her chance."
"Why should Lewis Elliot have anything to do with it?"
Her brother's tone brought a surprised look into Pamela's eyes.
"Lewis is a relation as well as a very old friend. Naturally he is
interested. I should think it could easily be managed. The boys will go
to school, Mrs. M'Cosh will stay on at The Rigs, Jean will see something
of the world. Imagine the joy of taking Jean about! She will make
everything worth while. I don't in the least expect her to be what is
known as a 'success.' I can picture her at a ball thinking of her latter
end! Up-to-date revues she will hate, and I can't see her indulging in
whatever is the latest artistic craze of the moment. She is a very
_select_ little person, Jean. But she will love the plays and pictures,
and shops and sights. And she has never been abroad--picture that! There
are worlds of things to show her. I find that her great desire--a very
modest one--is to go some April to the Shakespeare Festival at
Stratford-on-Avon. She worships Shakespeare hardly on this side of
"Won't she be disappointed? There is nothing very romantic about
Stratford of to-day."
"Ah, but I think I can stage-manage so that it will come up to her
expectations. A great many things in this world need a little
stage-management. Oh, I hope my plans will work out. I _do_ want Jean."
"But, Pamela--I want Jean too."
Lord Bidborough had risen, and now stood before the fire, his hands in
his pockets, his head thrown back, his eyes no longer lazy and amused,
but keen and alert. This was the man who attempted impossible
things--and did them.
It is never an easy moment for a sister when she realises that an adored
brother no longer belongs to her.
Pamela, after one startled look at her brother, dropped her eyes and
tried to go on with her embroidery, but her hand trembled, and she made
stitches at random.
"Pam, dear, you don't mind? You don't think it an unfriendly act? You
will always be Pam, my only sister; someone quite apart. The new love
won't lessen the old."
"Ah, my dear"--Pamela held out her hands to her brother--"you mustn't
mind if just at first.... You see, it's a great while ago since the
world began, and we've been wonderful friends all the time, haven't we,
Biddy?" They sat together silent for a minute, and then Pamela said,
"And I'm actually crying, when the thing I most wanted has come to pass:
what an idiot! Whenever I saw Jean I wanted her for you. But I didn't
try to work it at all. It all just happened right, somehow. Jean's
beauty isn't for the multitude, nor her charm, and I wondered if she
would appeal to you. You have seen so many pretty girls, and have been
almost surfeited with charm, and remained so calm that I wondered if you
ever would fall in love. The 'manoeuvring mamaws,' as Bella Bathgate
calls the ladies with daughters to marry, quite lost hope where you were
concerned; you never seemed to see their manoeuvres, poor dears.... And
I was so thankful, for I didn't want you to marry the modern type of
girl.... But I hardly dared to hope you would come to Priorsford and
love Jean at sight. It's all as simple as a fairy-tale."
"Oh, _is_ it? I very much doubt if Jean will look at me. I sometimes
think she rather avoids me. She keeps out of my way, and hardly ever
addresses a remark to me."
"She has never mentioned you to me," said Pamela, "and that's a good
sign. I don't say you won't have to wait. I'm pretty certain she won't
accept you when you ask her. Even if she cares--and I don't think she
realises yet that she does--her sense of duty to the boys, and other
things, will hold her back, and your title and possessions will tell
against you. Jean is the least mercenary of creatures Ask her before you
leave, and if she refuses you appear to accept her refusal. Don't say
you will try again and that sort of thing: it gives a girl a caged
feeling. Go away for a while and make no sign. I know what I'm talking
about, Biddy ... and she is worth waiting for."
"I would serve for her as Jacob served for Rachel, and not grudge one
minute of the time, but the nuisance is I'm twelve years older than she
is. I can't afford to wait. I'm afraid she will think me too old."
"Nonsense, a boy would never do for Jean. Although she looks such a
child, she is a woman, and a woman with a brain. Otherwise she would
never do for you. You would tire of a doll in a week, no matter how
curly the hair or flawless the complexion.... You realise, of course,
that Jean is an uncompromising little Puritan? Mercy is as plain as
bread and honour is as hard as stone to Jean--but she has a wide
tolerance for sinners. I can imagine it won't always be easy to be
Jean's husband. She is so full of compassion that she will want to help
every unfortunate, and fill the house with the broken and the
unsuccessful. But she won't be a wearisome wife. She won't pall. She
will always be full of surprises, and an infinite variety, and find such
numbers of things to laugh about.... You know how she mothers those
boys--can't you see Jean with babies of her own?... To me she is like a
well of spring-water a continual refreshment for weary souls."
Pamela stopped. "Am I making too much of an ordinary little country
Her brother smiled and shook his head, and after a minute he said:
"A garden enclosed is my love."
"What's to be said to him, lady? He is fortified against any
The day before Pamela and her brother left Priorsford for their visit to
Champertoun was a typical December day, short and dark and dirty.
There was a party at Hopetoun in honour of David's home-coming, and
Pamela and her brother were invited, along with the entire family from
They all set off together in the early darkening, and presently Pamela
and the three boys got ahead, and Jean found herself alone with Lord
Weather had little or no effect on Jean's spirits, and to-day, happy in
having David at home, she cared nothing for the depressing mist that
shrouded the hills, or the dank drip from the trees on the carpet of
sodden leaves, or the sullen swirl of Tweed coming down big with spate,
foaming against the supports of the bridge.
"As dull as a great thaw," she quoted to her companion cheerfully. "It
does seem a pity the snow should have gone away before Christmas. Do
you know, all the years of my life I've never seen snow on Christmas. I
do wish Mhor wouldn't go on praying for it. It's so stumbling for him
when Christmas comes mild and muggy. If we could only have it once as
you see it in pictures and read about it in books--"
She broke off to bow to Miss Watson and her sister, Miss Teenie, who
passed Jean and her companion with skirts held well out of the mud, and
eyes, after the briefest glance, demurely cast down.
"They are going out to tea," Jean explained to Lord Bidborough. "Don't
they look nice and tea-partyish? Fur capes over their best dresses and
snow boots over their slippers. Those little black satin bags hold their
work, and I expect they have each a handkerchief edged with Honiton lace
and scented with White Rose. Probably they are going to Mrs.
Henderson's. She gives wonderful teas, and they will be taken to a
bedroom to take off their outer coverings, and they'll stay till about
eight o'clock and then go home to supper."
Lord Bidborough laughed. "I begin to see what Pam means when she talks
of the lovableness of a little town. It is cosy, as she says, to see
people go out to tea and know exactly where they are going, and what
they'll do when they get there."
"I should think," said Jean, "that it would rather appeal to you. Your
doings have always been on such a big scale--climbing the highest
mountains in the world, going to the very farthest places--that the tiny
and the trivial ought to be rather fascinating by contrast."
Lord Bidborough admitted that it was so, and silence fell between them.
"I wonder," said Jean politely, having cast round in her mind for a
topic that might interest--"I wonder what you will attempt next? Jock
says you want to climb Everest. He is frightfully excited about it, and
wishes you would wait a few years till he is grown up and ready."
"Jock is a jewel, and he will certainly go with me when I attempt
Everest, if that time ever comes."
They had reached the entrance to Hopetoun: the avenue to the house was
short. "Would you mind," said Lord Bidborough, "walking on with me for a
"But why?" asked Jean, looking along the dark, uninviting road. "They'll
wonder what's become of us, and tea will be ready, and Mrs. Hope doesn't
like to be kept waiting."
"Never mind," said Lord Bidborough, his tone somewhat desperate. "I've
got something I want to say to you, and this may be my only chance.
Jean, could you ever--I mean, d'you think it possible--oh, Jean, will
you marry me?"
Jean backed away from him, her mouth open, her eyes round with
astonishment. She was too much surprised to be anything but utterly
"Are you asking me to marry you? But how _ludicrous_!"
The answer restored them both to their senses.
Lord Bidborough laughed ruefully and said, "Well, that's not a pretty
way to take a proposal," while Jean, flushed with shame at her own
rudeness, and finding herself suddenly rather breathless, gasped out,
"But you shouldn't give people such frights. How could I know you were
going to say anything so silly? And it's my first proposal, and I've
_got on goloshes_!"
"Oh, Jean! What a blundering idiot I am! I might have known it was a
wrong moment, but I'm hopelessly inexperienced, and, besides, I couldn't
risk waiting; I so seldom see you alone. Didn't you see, little blind
Jean, that I was head over ears in love with you? The first night I came
to The Rigs and you spoke to me in your singing voice I knew you were
the one woman in the world for me."
"No," said Jean. "No."
"Ah, don't say that. You're not going to send me away, Penny-plain?"
"Don't you see," said Jean, "I mustn't _let_ myself care for you, for
it's quite impossible that I could ever marry you. It's no good even
speaking about such a thing. We belong to different worlds."
"If you mean my stupid title, don't let that worry you. A second and the
Socialists alter that! A title means nothing in these days."
"It isn't only your title: it's everything--oh, can't you _see_?"
"Jean, dear, let's talk it over quietly. I confess I can't see any
difficulty at all--if you care for me a little. That's the one thing
"My feelings," said Jean, "don't matter at all. Even if there was
nothing else in the way, what about Davie and Jock and the dear Mhor? I
must always stick to them--at least until they don't need me any
"But Jean, beloved, you don't suppose I want to take you away from them?
There's room for them all.... I can see you at Mintern Abbas, Jean, and
there's a river there, and the hills aren't far distant--you won't find
it unhomelike--the only thing that is lacking is a railway for the
"Please don't," said Jean. "You hurt me when you speak like that. Do you
think I would let you burden yourself with all my family? I would never
be anything but a drag on you. You must go away, Richard Plantagenet,
and take your proper place in the world, and forget all about Priorsford
and Penny-plain, and marry someone who will help you with your career
and be a fit mistress for your great houses, and I'll just stay here.
The Rigs is my proper setting."
"Jean," said Lord Bidborough, "will you tell me--is there any other
"No. How could there be? There aren't any men in Priorsford to speak
"There's Lewis Elliot."
Jean stared. "You don't suppose _Lewis_ wants to marry me, do you? Men
are the _stupidest_ things! Don't you know that Lewis...."
"Nothing. Only you needn't think he ever looks the road I'm on. What a
horrid conversation this is! It's a great mistake ever to mention love
and marriage. It makes the nicest people silly. I simply daren't think
what Jock would say if he heard us. He would be what Bella Bathgate
calls 'black affrontit.'"
"Jean, will it always matter to you more than anything in the world what
David and Jock and Mhor think? Will you never care for anyone as you
care for them?"
"But they are my charge," Jean explained. "They were left to me. Mother
said, before she went away that last time, 'I trust you, Jean, to look
after the boys,' and when father didn't come back, and Great-aunt Alison
died, they had only me."
"Can't you adopt me as well? Do you know, Penny-plain, I believe it is
all the fault of your Great-aunt Alison. You are thinking that on your
death-bed you will like to feel that you sacrificed yourself to
"Oh," cried Jean, "did Pamela actually tell you about Great-aunt Alison?
That wasn't quite fair."
"She wasn't laughing. She only told me because she knew I was interested
in every detail of your life, and Great-aunt Alison explains a lot of
things about her grand-niece."
Jean pondered on this for a little and then said:
"Pam once said I was on the verge of being a prig, and I'm not sure that
she wasn't right, and it's a hateful thing to be. D'you think I'm
priggish, Richard Plantagenet? Oh no, don't kiss me. I hate it.... Why
do you want to behave like that? It isn't nice."
"I'm sorry, Jean."
"And now your voice sounds as if you did think me a prig ... Here we
are at last, and I simply don't know what to say kept us."
"Don't say anything: leave it to me. I'll be sure to think of some lie.
Do you realise that we are only ten minutes behind the others?"
"Is that all?" cried Jean, amazed. "It seems like _hours_."
Lord Bidborough began to laugh helplessly.
"I wonder if any man ever had such a difficult lady," he said, "or one
so uncompromisingly truthful?"
He rang the bell, and as they stood on the doorstep waiting, the light
from the hall-door fell on his face, and Jean, looking at him, suddenly
felt very low. He was going away, and she might never see him again. The
fortnight he had been in Priorsford had given her an entirely new idea
of what life might mean. She had not been happy all the time: she had
been afflicted with vague discontents and jealousies such as she had not
known before, but at the back of them all she was conscious of a shining
happiness, something that illuminated and gave a new value to all the
commonplace daily doings. Now, as in a flash, while they waited for the
door to open, Jean knew what had caused the happiness, and realised that
with her own hand she was shutting the door on the light, shutting
herself out to a perpetual twilight.
"If only you hadn't been a man," she said miserably, "we might have been
A servant opened the door and they went in together.
"When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu whu, a merry note
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot."
Mhor began to look forward to Christmas whenever the days began to
shorten and the delights of summer to fade; and the moment the
Hallowe'en "dooking" for apples was over he and Jock were deep in
As is the way with most things, the looking forward and preparing were
the best of it. It meant weeks of present-making, weeks of wrestling
with delicious things like paints and pasteboard and glue. Then came a
week or two of walking on tiptoe into the little spare room where the
presents were stored, just to peep, and make sure that they really were
there and had not been spirited away, for at Christmas-time you never
knew what knavish sprites were wandering about. The spare room became
the most interesting place in the house. It was all so thrilling: the
pulling out of the drawer, the breathless moment until you made sure
that the presents were safe, the smell that came out of the drawer to
meet you, an indescribable smell of lavender and well-washed linen, of
furniture polish and cedar-wood. The dressing-table had a row of three
little drawers on either side, and in these Jean kept the small eatables
that were to go into the stockings--things made of chocolate, packets of
almonds and raisins, big sugar "bools." To Mhor a great mystery hung
over the dressing-table. No mortal hand had placed those things there;
they were fairy things, and might vanish any moment. On Christmas
morning he ate his chocolate frog with a sort of reverence, and sucked
the sugar "bools" with awe.
A caller at The Rigs had once exclaimed in astonishment that an
intelligent child like the Mhor still believed in Santa Claus, and Jean
had replied with sudden and startling ferocity, "If he didn't believe I
would beat him till he did." Happily there was no need for such extreme
measures: Mhor believed implicitly.
Jock had now grown beyond such beliefs, but he did nothing to undermine
Mhor's trust. He knew that the longer you can believe in such things the
nicer the world is.
The Jardines always felt about Christmas Day that the best of it was
over in the morning--the stockings and the presents and the postman,
leaving long, over-eaten, irritable hours to be got through before
bedtime and oblivion.
This year Jock had drawn out a time-table to ensure that the day held
10-12 Deliver small presents to various friends.
1 Luncheon at the Jowetts'.
4 Tea at home and present-giving.
5-9 Devoted to supper and variety entertainment.
This programme was strictly adhered to except by the Mhor in the matter
of his stocking, which was grabbed from the bed-post and cuddled into
bed beside him at least two hours before the scheduled time; and by the
postman, who did not make his appearance till midday, thereby greatly
The day passed very pleasantly: the luncheon at the Jowetts' was
everything a Christmas meal should be, Mrs. M'Cosh surpassed herself
with bakemeats for the tea, the presents gave lively satisfaction, but
_the_ feature of the day was the box that arrived from Pamela and her
brother. It was waiting when the family came back from the Jowetts',
standing in the middle of the little hall with a hammer and a
screw-driver laid on the top by thoughtful Mrs. M'Cosh--a large white
wooden box which thrilled one with its air of containing treasures. Mhor
sank down beside it, hardly able to wait until David had taken off his
coat and was ready to tackle it. Off came the lid, out came the packing
paper on the top, and in Jock and Mhor dived.
It was really a wonderful box. In it there was something for everybody,
including Mrs. M'Cosh and Peter, but Mhor's was the most striking
present. No wonder the box was large. It contained a whole railway--a
train, lines, signal-boxes, a station, even a tunnel.
Mhor was rendered speechless with delight. Jean wished Pamela had been
there to see the lamps lit in his green eyes. Mrs. M'Cosh's beautiful
tea was lost on him: he ate and drank without being aware of it, his
eyes feasting all the time on this great new treasure.
"I wish," he said at last, "that I could do something for the Honourable
and Richard Plantagenet. I only sent her a wee poetry-book. It cost a
shilling. It was Jean's shilling really, for I hadn't anything left, and
I wrote in it, 'Wishing you a pretty New Year.' I forgot about 'happy'
being the word; d'you think she'll mind?"
"I think Pamela will prefer it called 'pretty,'" Jean said. "You are
lucky, aren't you?--and so is Jock with that gorgeous knife."
"It's an explorer's knife," said Jock. "You see, you can do almost
everything with it. If I was wrecked on a desert island I could pretty
nearly build a house with it. Feel the blades--"
"Oh, do be careful. I would put away the presents in the meantime and
get everything ready for the charade. Are you quite sure you know what
you're going to do? You mustn't just stand and giggle."
Jean had asked three guests to come to supper--three lonely women who
otherwise would have spent a solitary evening--and Mrs. M'Cosh had
asked Bella Bathgate to sup with her and afterwards to witness what she
dubbed "a chiraide."
The living-room had been made ready for the entertainment, all the
chairs placed in rows, the deep window-seat doing duty for a stage, but
Jean was very doubtful about the powers of the actors, and hoped that
the audience would be both easily amused and long-suffering.
Jock and Mhor protested that they had chosen a word for the charade, and
knew exactly what they meant to say, but they would divulge no details,
advising Jean to wait patiently, for something very good was coming.
The little house looked very festive, for the boys had decorated
earnestly, the square hall was a bower of greenery, and a gaily coloured
Chinese lantern hanging in the middle added a touch of gaiety to the
scene. The supper was the best that Jean and Mrs. M'Cosh could devise,
the linen and the glass and silver shone, the flowers were charmingly
arranged Jean wore her gay mandarin's coat, and the guests--when they
arrived--found themselves in such a warm and welcoming atmosphere that
they at once threw off all stiffness and prepared to enjoy the evening.
The entertainment was to begin at eight, and Mrs. M'Cosh and Miss
Bathgate took their seats "on the chap," as the latter put it. The two
Miss Watsons, surprisingly enough, were also present. They had come
along after supper with a small present for Jean, had asked to see her,
and stood lingering on the doorstep refusing to come farther, but
obviously reluctant to depart.
"Just a little bag, you know, Miss Jean, for you to put your work in if
you're going out to tea, you know. No, it's not at all kind. You've been
so nice to us. No, no, we won't come in; we don't want to disturb
you--just ran along--you've friends, anyway. Oh, well, if you put it
that way ... we might just sit down for five minutes--if you're sure
we're not in the way...." And still making a duet of protest they sank
A passage had been arranged, with screens between the door and the
window-seat, and much traffic went along that way; the screens bumped
and bulged and seemed on the point of collapsing, while smothered
giggles were frequent.
At last the curtains were jerked apart, and revealed what seemed to be a
funeral pyre. Branches were piled on the window-seat, and on the top,
wrapped in an eiderdown quilt, with a laurel wreath bound round his
head, lay David. Jock, with bare legs and black boots, draped in an
old-fashioned circular waterproof belonging to Mrs. M'Cosh, stood with
arms folded looking at him, while Mhor, almost denuded of clothing, and
supported by Peter (who sat with his back to the audience to show his
thorough disapproval of the proceedings), stood at one side.
When the murmured comments of the spectators had ceased, Mhor, looking
extraordinarily Roman, held up his hand as if appealing to a raging mob,
and said, "Peace, ho! Let us hear him," whereupon Jock, breathing
heavily in his brother's face, proceeded to give Antony's oration over
Caesar. He did it very well, and the Mhor as the Mob supplied
appropriate growls at intervals; indeed, so much did Antony's eloquence
inspire Mhor that, when Jock shouted, "Light the pyre!" (a sentence
introduced to bring in the charade word), instead of merely pretending
with an unlighted taper, Mhor dashed to the fire, lit the taper, and
before anyone could stop him thrust it among the dry twigs, which at
once began to light and crackle. Immediately all was confusion. "Mhor!"
shouted Jean, as she sprang towards the stage. "Gosh, Maggie!" Jock
yelled, as he grabbed the burning twigs, but it was "Imperial Caesar,