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"What do ye want? That's your way of asking, as I know well. What ails ye now, and what long story have ye to tell? The sooner it's begun, the sooner it will be ended," he said.
"There is truth in that," replied Marg'ret sedately; "and I canna say I am confident ye will be pleased with what I'm going to say. For to meddle between a father and his bairns is no a pleasant oflice, and one that is but a servant in the house."
"And who may this be," said Mr. Douglas grimly, "that is coming to interfere between a father and his bairns,—meaning me and my family, as I'm at liberty to judge?"
Marg'ret looked her master in the face, and made him a slight but serious curtsey. "'Deed, sir, it's just me," she said.
"You !" said the Laird with all the force of angry indignation which he could throw into his voice. He roused himself to the fray, pushing up his spectacles upon his forehead. "You're a bonny one," he said, "to burst into a gentleman's private room on whatever errand—let alone meddling in what's none of your concerns."
"If ye think sae, sir," said Marg'ret, "that's just anither point we dinna agree about; for if there's a mair proper person to speak to ye about your bairns than the person that has brought them up, and carried them in her arms, and made their parritch and mended their clo'es all their life, I'm no acquaint with her. Eh me, what am I saying 1 There is anither that has a better right—and that's their mother. But she's your wife, puir lamb, and ye ken weel that ye've sae dauntened her, and sae bowed her down, that if ye were to take a' their lives she would never get out a word."
"Did she send ye here to tell me so ?" cried Drumcarro.
"But me," said Marg'ret unheeding the question, "I'm no to be dauntened neither by words nor looks. I'm nae man's wife, the Lord be thankit."
"Ye may well say that," said the Liird, seizing an ever-ready weapon, "for it's well known ye never could
get a man to look the way ye were on.
Marg'ret paused for a moment and contemplated him, half moved by the jibe, but with a slight wave of her hand put the temptation away. "I'm no to be put off by ony remarks ye can make, sir," she said; "maybe ye think ye ken my affairs better than I do, for well I wot I ken yours better than you. You're no an ill father to your lads. I would never say sae, for it wouldna' be true; ye do your best for them and grudge naething. But the lasses are just as precious a gift from their Maker as their brothers, and what's ever done for them t They're just as neglecktit as the colley dogues: na, far mair, for the colleys have a fine training to make them fit for their work—-whereas our young ladies, the Lord bless them—"
"Well," said the father sharply, "and what have you to with the young ladies? Go away with you to your kitchen, and heat your girdle and make your scones. That's your vocation. The young ladies I tell ye are no concern of yours."
"Whose concern should they be when neither father nor mother take ony heed 1" said Marg'ret. "Maister Douglas, how do you think your bonnie lads would have come through if they had been left like that and nobody caring? There's Miss Kirsteen is just as clever and just as good as any one o' them; but what is the poor thing's life worth if she's never to see a thing, nor meet a person out of Drumcarro House? Ye ken yoursel' there's little company in Drumcarro House—you sitting here and the mistress maybe in her bed, and neither kin nor friend to say a pleasant word. Lord bless us a' I I'm twice her age and mair: but I would loup ower the linn the first dark day, if I was like that lassie without the sight of a face or the sound of a voice of my ain kind."
"You're just an auld fool," said Drumcarro, "the lassie is as well off as any lassie needs to be. Kirsteen— oh ay, I mind now, ye have always made a pet of Kirsteen. It's maybe that that has given her her bold tongue and set that spark in her eye."
"Na," said Marg'ret, "it was just her Maker did that, to make her ane of the first in the land if them she belongs to dinna shut her up in a lonesome glen in a dull hoose. But naebody shall say I'm speaking for Kirsteen alone; there's your bonny little Jeanie that will just be a beauty. Where she got it I canna tell, ony mair than I can tell where Kirsteen got her grand spirit and yon light in her ee. No from her poor mother, that was a bonny bit thing in her day, but never like that. Jeanie will be just the flower o' the haill country-side, if ye can ca' it a country-side that's a' howkit out into glens and tangled with thae lochs and hills. If she were in a mair open country there's no a place from Ayr to Dumfries but would hear of her for her beauty in twa or three years' time. Ye may say beauty's but skin deep, and I'm saying nothing to the contrary; but it's awfu' pleasant to the sight of men; and I'll just tell you this, Drumcarro—though it's maybe no a thing that's fit for me to say— there's no a great man in a' the land that bairn mightna' marry if she had justice done her. And maybe that will move ye, if naething else will."
A gleam had come into Drumcarro's eyes as she spoke, but he answered only by a loud and harsh laugh, leaning back in his chair and opening wide a great cavern of a mouth. "The deil's in the woman for marrying and giving in marriage 1" he said, "A bit lassie in a peenny 1 It's a pity the Duke marriet, Marg'ret, but it cannot be mended. If she's to get a prince he'll come this way when she' old enough. We'll just wait till that time comes."
"The time has come for the rest,
if no for her," said Marg'ret, unexpectedly encouraged by this tone. "And eh 1 if ye would but think, they're young things, and youth comes but ance in a lifetime, and ye can never win it back when it's past. The laddies, bless them, are all away to get their share; the lassies will never get as much, but just a bit triflin' matter—a white gown to go to a pairty, or a sight of Glasgow, or—"
"The woman's daft!" said the Laird. "Glasgow! what will they do there 1 a white gown ! a fiddlestick— what do they want that they haven't got—plenty of good meat, and a good roof over their heads, and nothing to do for't but sew their seams and knit their stockings and keep a pleasant tongue in their heads. If ye stir up nonsense among them, I'll just turn ye bag and baggage out of my house."
"I would advise ye to do that sir," said Marg'ret calmly. "I'll no need a second telling. And ye'll be sorry but ance for what ye have done, and that'll be a' your life."
"Ye saucy jade !" said the Laird: but though he glared at her with fiery eyes, he added no more on this subject. "The lassies!" he said, "a pingling set aye wanting something! To spend your money on feeding them and clothing them, that's not enough it would appear! Ye must think of their finery, their parties and their pleasures. Tell Kirsteen she must get a man to do that for her. She'll have no nonsense from me."
"And where is she to get a man? And when she has gotten a man—the only kind that will come her gait—"
Mr. Douglas rose up from his chair, and shook his clenched fist. Rage made him dumb. He stammered out an oath or two, incapable of giving vent to the torreut of wrath that came to his lips. But Marg'ret did not wait till his utterances became clear.
(To be continued.)
The wind fortunately did not increase when the darkness fell, but the gloom of the night gave so stormy an aspect to the ocean that you would have thought it blew as hard again as it did. I cannot express how dismal was the appearance of the weltering liquid blackness in whose heart our tiny ark laboured, one moment flung to the sight of the stars, the next plunged into the momentary stagnation and midnight of the Atlantic trough, with long dashes of pale foam heaving like great winding-sheets all about us, and the slender moon leaping with a troubled silver face from the rims of the flying clouds, to render the picture ghastly with the cold, death-like complexion of her light. There was to be no couch for Miss Grant at the bottom of the boat. The fabric rode well, and took but very little water over the bows; but the wet came in fast through the showering of the spray off the seas curling into foam ahead of us, and obliged me again and again to bale, though it occupied but a very little while to free us.
My companion sat beside me in the stern sheets, to which place indeed I had transported most of our little cargo of fruit, water, and the like, that the combined weight aft might give the boat's nose a good cock-up for the run of the surge. Happily, though
Nc. 360.—Vol. Lx.
it all looked chill as a wintry Channel scene, the wind blew warm, wet as it was; and the water was warm, too, with the first touch of it, though, to be sure, if you let it lie long trickling upon your face the breeze made it frosty. Conversation was out of the question. The roaring of the near seas drowned our voices. To render ourselves audible we had to put our lips to each other's ear, sheltering our mouths even then with the hand against the blast, that would otherwise have clipped our words away as you'd snick the twig from a bough with a pair of shears. I saw that the night was to be a fearfully trying one for us both. My own attention was kept so much on the strain by observing the plunges of the boat, and watching the seas rolling at and past us, that I protest my very soul ached as if it were some physical faculty in me. Our misery, too, was increased by the obligation to keep seated. In calm water, as you have seen, we moved about and eased our cramped limbs by passing to the end of the little craft, or by standing; but now we durst not stir, not only for fear of throwing the boat out of trim, but lest we should be flung overboard by one of her many extravagant leaps.
Thus passed the time. I occupied my mind by considering what we should do on the morrow, if the dawn found us alive and the weather moderated. The one ship we bad seen at
sundown made me hope that others might show next day; but I could not forget that we made but a minute speck on this mighty surface, invisible at a very short distance away, and that our chance of being picked up must lie in a vessel passing close to us.
It was shortly before two in the morning, as I might guess by the passage of the stars, that the wind slackened, shifted into the southwest, and hung there a soft and pleasant breeze, with a thinning away of the clouds, a brighter glory of starlight, a more diamond-like edge to the curl of the moon now sailing low, and a spreading out of the sea into a large, round swell, the sleepy cradling of which was like a benediction to the senses after the sharp, snarling curses of the surges which had been racking our bones and bewildering our brains for hours. We sat talking awhile, but my companion's voice was broken by weariness, and presently she made no answer to some question I put, and on looking at her I saw that she had fallen asleep. I supported her as before, but it was not long ere I was nodding too. Her sof b and regular respiration was an invitation to slumber; the rhythmic swing of the boat, too, was poppy-like in its influence. My eyelids turned into lead, my chin sunk upon my breast. •
I was startled by a voice hailing me. It aroused me from a nightmare, and I woke in a fright. It was daylight, so I must have slept for an hour and a half.
I started to the cry that came ringing harsh and loud close aboard, and Miss Grant opened her eyes and sat erect, with an exclamation of astonishment, and a lifting up of the hands as though to fend off some phantasmal object. The sun was just rising, and his first beam like a living lance of light came hurling along the swelling surface of the waters, which brightened out to the stretching of that magic wand of glory into dainty turquoise even as you looked.
"Boat ahoy, I say!"
I turned, and then sprang to my feet with a shout of joy. Close astern of us, within toss of a biscuit, lay a little fore-and-aft schooner, with her canvas shaking to the light southwesterly wind into the very eye of which her jibboom pointed. She was a craft of some twenty-five tons, painted black, sitting low on the water, a beautiful model to the eye, schooner-rigged as I have said, her canvas old and grimy and liberally patched, her masts badly stayed, the standing rigging gray for want of tar. A fellow in a red shirt and a blue cap, like a French smacksman's, leaned with his bare arms upon the rail, staring at us with a face of a dark yellow. Over the forecastle bulwarks were the heads of four negroes attired in bright colours, and another negro stood at the long slender tiller that swayed in his hand, whilst he gazed at us with his mouth open behind the yellow-faced man. All these details were swept upon my mind with photographic swiftness and fidelity.
I cried out: "For God's sake, take us on board. You shall be handsomely repaid for any trouble we give you. We have out-lived a terrible night, and are in the greatest distress, and must perish if you do not receive us."
"Can yah manage to scull dah boat 'longside, d'yah tink t"
"Oh, yes!" I cried, "oh, yes!"
I whipped out my knife, sprang forward deliriously, dragged at the sea-anchor, hauled it streaming into the boat, severed the ligatures, and seizing a paddle floundered aft with it, and fell to sculling the boat towards the schooner. Once a horrible swooning feeling seized me, and I was forced to pause to rally my senses, on which the yellow man bawied out, "Look out for dis yeerie line," and hove a coil of rope into the boat, which Miss Grant caught, and we were dragged alongside. I thrust my companion's parcel of letters and jewellery into my pocket, and helped her up the side. But the moment we gained the deck the brave and beautiful girl broke down. She hid her face and sobbed bitterly. Her emotion was tonical as an obligation upon me to bear up, otherwise I believe I should have given way as weakly as any woman, so true it is that sudden joys, like griefs, confound at first. I drew her gently to the side, longing to soothe her with a lover's caress, though I started to the mere fancy of such a thing and half turned from her, for now that we stood upon a vessel's deck again she seemed to slip magically back to the old bearings she had aboard the Iron Crown. It was the mere sensitiveness in my humour then, no doubt, but I felt it as a sudden chill at my heart, that my lovely associate on the island, my patient, tender, heroic companion of the boat, had changed into Miss Aurelia Grant merely, the young lady whom Lwas escorting to Rio to oblige my cousin, who would marry her on her arrival.
She looked at me through her tears, smiling.
"What would yah like done wid dis yeerie boat, sah 1" exclaimed the yellow-faced man.
"Get her aboard, if you please," said I, "or take her in tow, or cast her adrift. She's of no use to us now, thank God."
"Them rugs is yourn, I reckon 1" said the man.
"Yes," I answered; "I shall be glad to have them. We may need them here."
He took a look at the boat, and then ran his eye along the little schooner's deck in a sort of calculating way, and exclaimed, "Tain't good enough to send de likes of her adrift. Dere's room yeerie, I guess. Hi 1 Toby, Hebenezer, Jupiter, lay aft, you tree dam niggers, and get dis boat inboards. Daddy, jump for dah lufftackle; jump, mah Hafrican, and stop scratching your head. Quick an' lively's dah word all roun' now."
He clapped his hands, and fell to cutting several queer capers, as though striving to work himself up into a
state of excitement, perhaps with a notion of putting life into his niggers. Indeed, he was the oddest figure that could be imagined. His nose was that of the negro, and his mouth so twisted, whether by disease or disaster, that the left-hand corner of it was on a line with his right nostril, whilst the rest of it went up into his cheek in the shape of the paring of a fingernail. One eye was larger than the other, the dusk of them indicating African blood. His beauty was further improved by a strange growth of short black hair upon his chin, every fibre as wide apart as the teeth of a comb, and as coarse as the bristles of a hog. There was the negro twang in his voice, and he seemed incapable of speaking without hallooing. He wore, in addition to the cap and shirt I have already named, a pair of dirty duck trousers which ran flowing to his naked yellow feet; but grotesquely ugly as he was—and the more so for the contrast of his twisted, guinea-coloured face betwixt his old blue cap and faded red shirt—he could not have been more beautiful in my sight than had he been one of those dewy, ambrosial, lovely spirits who, in " Paradise Lost," with flaming lances keep the devil at a respectful distance from the sleeping Adam and his wife.
All was now bustle; the negroes walloped about, tumbling into the boat, bawling out like school-boys at play, and making the craft we had vacated splash as though they would capsize her. Amidst the utmost confusion, the little craft's nose was got to the gangway, the block of the luff-tackle hooked on to the ringbolt in the stem, and then all hands came aboard to hoist her in. The fellow at the helm left it to help, and though my emotions just then leaned very little to the side of merriment, I laughed till I was breathless at the contortions of the blacks as they pulled in company with the yellow man, every dusky throat delivering a yell with each drag on its own account; till all at once, just as the bows of the boat