THE WINGS of the MORNING
JOHN A. STEUART
Author of “The Minister of State,” “The Red Reaper.”
IN all circumstances a philosopher ought to be composed; the dominie was a philosopher, yet a glanco would have told that he was deeply, painfully perturbed. He sat crouched over his desk, his chin on his hands, his face an epitome of acute distress. For a full half-hour he had sat thus—mute, motionless, miserable. Spread out on the desk before him was a letter, the manifest and immediate cause of his distress.
It was Friday afternoon, and still with the stillness of golden sunshine and perfect summer peace.
The school-room was as silent as the tomb. Outside among the leaves not a bird twittered; the very winds were asleep. The day’s work, the' week’s -work, was done. The scholars had all gone.
Nearly an hour earlier the last whoop of the emancipated boys had been swallowed by the all-devouring silence, leaving the master alone with his trouble.
Taking up the letter, he read it for the twentieth time. It was not addressed to him, and, properly speaking, did not concern him at all; yet it had thrown his whole world into confusion as by the sudden convulsive upheaval of an earthquake.
“P o o r Margaret!” he murmured, laying down the letter with a sigh that seemed to be torn from the very roots of his being;
He rose as he spoke, and stepping to the . nearest window', looked out. The school stood high against a background which was a panorama of empurpled hills with peeping Bens behind, now lightly azure in the azure distance. Up there, between him and the sky-line, was Margaret Gordon, as yet unconscious of what the Weird Sisters had spun for her.
“Poor Margaret!” he repeated on a heaving heartthrob. “My poor Maggie!”
Turning away, he paced up and down the room with jerky, irregular steps that sounded eerie and hollow in the emptiness. His thoughts were now on another tack.
Tj'ARLY in the afternoon Sir Hector had broken in on the humming babel of scholars and left the fateful letter.
“We can’t talk of it now,” said the baronet. "Come down to the castle in the evening, and we’ll discuss it. Come and dine with me; I am all alone.”
The pair ought to have been separated by all the rigid, impassable conventions which mark off the landed proprietor with wide possessions of “brown heath and shaggy wood” (mostly brown heath) and a pedigree antedating the Flood, from the village schoolmaster with no patent of nobility save that stamped upon him by his Creator. But to the confusion of fools and the scandal of snobs, they were fast friends, and often smoked a pipe together in animated, most amicable disagreement. To the discerning public eye the baronet appeared a long lean relic of feudalism, with the figure of Don Quixote and the temper of Hotspur. To the same discernment the dominie was—just a dominie with a reserved manner, a caustic tongue (if put to it), a deal of superfluous learning, and a lovesecret which kept him a bachelor. But the two men had the all-important mutual understanding and appreciation which Cicero forgot to mention when dilating on the essentials of friendship.
“There is not an atom of the toady in our good dominie,” the baronet declared admiringly. “He neither fawns nor flatters, and he isn’t afraid—even of me. When I blow off steam he just smiles. Yes, decidedly I like and respect Thomas Dunning.”
“Fiery and a bit sulphurous whiles,” said the dominie
of the baronet. “No denying it. But I’ll tell you this, he’s the very man I’d go to for a favor.”
Thus two utterly dissimilar men may admire each other to the point of affection.
The dominie received the invitation to dine with the remark, “You dress for dinner, Sir Hector; I don’t.” “Confound you, what does it matter how you dress?” was the retort. “Come in pyjamas if you like, or if you like come just in your garters. You must help me in this business. That’s all.”
“Of course, if”-
“Never mind of coursing. It’s a way fraudulent lawyers have, which I don’t like. Some son of Ananias in London has sent me a new brand or blend of tobacco to sample. We can test it and talk. Anyway, come.”
npHE dominie went, and that evening Sir Hector did not dress for dinner. When the servants had gone, and the two were thickly enveloped In smoke, the baronet remarked from the midst of the cloud, “Well, you’ll go and tell her.”
“I’d say it’s your place to do that,” was the reply. The baronet fanned aside the smoke to see if his friend could be in earnest. “My place! How on earth can I tell her? I put it to you frankly, Dunning, how the devil can a man have the face to sympathize with a woman to whom, as she thinks, he has behaved badly?” “Not easy for a gentleman, certainly,” agreed the dominie.
“Gentleman!” snorted the baronet. “We’ll let that fly stick to the wall, if you please. You know how things are between us?”
“Yes, I understand she is under notice to go.”
“She was,” corrected the baronet. “It’s a long story. You’ll admit Duncan, her late husband, wasn’t exactly an angel in temper, especially when he was in drink. If all tales be true, neither am I—even when I’m sober. Maybe even angels fall out whiles, just to clear the atmosphere. Anyway, Duncan and I didn’t get on too well together, and it didn’t mend matters that M’Watter the factor was always coming to me with tales of arrears of rent. After the husband came the
son, and things were worse. As the old dog snarls the young one learns to show its teeth. The father scowled at me; the son defied me. One day I think he was for thrashing me—and his mother a tenant in arrears with rent!”
“Foolish, but not cowardly,” said the dominie
He thought of another encounter, of which the baronet was ignorant. The youngheir,home from Eton for a holiday, met Aleck Gordon. Old feuds took fire, and there was a fight. Eton was the heavier -weight, yet Eton suffered defeat—and lied bravely in explanation of results. Ever after the dominie, who knew all, thought well of Eton.
“Aleck Gordon was no coward,” said the baronet decisively. “We have proof of that. But any fool can be wise after the event. If I was mistaken in him, possibly he was mistaken in me. Two such mistakes, and you have hate in the making. M’Watter was for getting rid of the whole breed, and I consented. That’s the extent of my crime. Now there comes this, and—and I’m bowled over. So you’ll go and face Margaret Gordon for me, Dunning. Tell her the law’s off. M’Watter will be here early to-morrow morning, and I’ll tell him; and the lawyer body in Aberfourie will be instructed to the same effect. Honor and gratitude can do no less.”
“Then go and tell Margaret Gordon that yourself,” insisted the dominie. “It will be one of the finest things you ever did.”
“No I won’t, because I can’t. Pride, you say. No, sir, cowardice—pure cowardice. You see, she’d be bound to cry, and I’d lose my head and skedaddle. Nice tit-bit for the gossips, eh? No; you’ll go. I ask it as a favor. And look here, Dunning, as to the future, let it be whatever you think proper in the circumstances. You see what my boy says: ‘For my sake, do all you
can.’ There are certain things I cannot do—would that I could; but what I can I will do. It’ll be little enough, seeing what I owe. I’d send M’Watter, only he’d be even more of an ass than myself. Besides, I remember that Margaret Gordon and you are old friends.”
“Yes,” said the dominie, with a sudden twitch of the features; “very old friends.”
“Old friends are best in a crisis,” said the baronet. “So to-morrow you will do me the favor of going to Margaret Gordon.”
“To-morrow, Sir Hector,” replied the dominie, “I will go to Margaret Gordon.”
NEXT morning, after a restless, sleepless night, the dominie rose to face the most trying ordeal of his life. Janet, his elderly, gaunt, and active housekeeper, complained that although she prepared a breakfast “fit for a prince” he paid her the ill compliment of leaving it almost untouched.
“And mercy on us, Mr. Dunning,” she cried, coming to a sudden halt before him, “what’s happened that your collar’s a’ bluidy.”
She recalled his strange aspect of the day before, and was terrified by thoughts of attempted suicide.
“I—I must have cut myself in shaving,” he returned, lamely, as Janet felt.
“Aye,” she said, still cold with the suicide theory, “razors are unco unchancy things.” It was in her mind to hide his and let him go unshaved—at any rate until he should recover his wits.
He put cn another collar and went out, remarking that as he did not know when he would return, Janet need not trouble about dinner for him. This was confirmation of her worst fears.
“Puir, doited thing, what’s come over him?” she thought, watching him as he went. “A’ last night I could hear him tramp, trampin’ his room when he should have been sleepin’, an’ this mornin’ no breakfast, an’ a face like a ghost’s. It’s for the hill he is,” she added, noting his direction, and instantly a cold shiver went through her at thought of a certain tarn of evil name that was just the place for a would-be suicide. “A soaked, draigled corp—it fairly gies me the cauld grue just to think o’t.”
She had an impulse to rush after him, and by sheer force, if persuasion failed, compel him to come back.
Lacking courage, for the dominie was not a man to be lightly meddled with, she went inside to her household instead.
Meanwhile, all unconscious of the terrors he inspired, the dominie climbed the steep slope above the scnoolhouse. Once out of sight, he sat down, took Sir Hector’s letter from his pocket, and read it as a man might read his own death-warrant.
“He should have come himself,” he muttei-ed. “Yes, he should have come himself.” Yet not that either, for above all things in the world, Thomas Dunning wished to be with Margaret Gordon in this crisis of her fate.
He went on again, cold at heart, though the sun shone warmly. When at last he sighted High Croft nestling in the little green dip of the hills, its windows and whitewashed walls gleaming in the brilliant light, he stopped as if afraid to proceed. Then with a sudden prick of courage he hurried on, like one hypnotized by the very dread and peril of his enterprise.
Ö OGER the collie spied him from afar, and rushed forth, all bark and bristle; but midway his ears fell back and his tail began to wag joyously. Next instant he was licking the dominie’s hand, as in apology for his unpremeditated rudeness. For the master was no stranger at High Croft. A maid followed the dog, gazed a moment at the approaching figure, and disappeared. When the dominie reached the door Margaret Gordon herself was there to welcome him.
“Having a Saturday dander, Tom?” she remarked similingly, in response to the salutation of the soft slouch hat. “It’s bonnie among the hills the day, isn’t it?”
“Yes; one of the days that come just to show what the Highlands can be in a good mood,” he returned. “How are you, Maggie?”
In the presence of others she was Mrs. Gordon, and he was Mr. Dunning; but by themselves she was still Maggie, and he was still Tom.
“I mustn’t complain,” she answered, Scots fashion. In the national creed of her country complaint in the matter of feeling is tantamount to a reflection on Providence, which is straitly forbidden. “Come away in by and rest. It’s a warm pull up here on such a day.”
She turned, and he followed her into “the room,” which in rural Scotland is the equivalent for city drawing-room or parlor. “You’ll be for having something?” she added, setting him a chair.
“No, thank you, Maggie. I haven’t long breakfasted.”
“A drink of milk at least,” she coaxed. He had a glass of milk which was nine-tenths cream, not because he was thirsty, but to please her and incidentally to rally and compose his own fluttering faculties. As he drank he watched her face. When he knew it first that face had been radiant with a beauty that might have made Helen jealous; but time and trouble lay heavy upon it, giving it a look of settled, wistful sadness, such as beautiful faces sometimes wear. It wore the habitual look now.
“She doesn't know anything,” he told himself. How was he to tell her?
“Any news from Aleck lately?” he asked in the ordinary tone of ordinary conversation.
“A letter two days ago,” she replied. “Here it is. Read it for yourself.”
T T was a letter written with Caesarean brevity. The writer was in “the thick of it,” and he was glad to say the Boches were getting something of
what they deserved. He was well, and would write again just as soon as \e could. He often thought of High Croft and his mother. She was not to worry.
He thought of his frieras too, and the
night before had dreamed of the master, a funny dream
about fighting Sir Hector.
As-he handed back the letter the dominie haa a painful lump in his throat.
“It’s comforting to think he’s been spared to me so far,” said Margaret simply. “God can save on the battlefield as well as on the quiet hill-side.”
The dominie coughed, thinking of that other letter in his pocket. Then he blew his nose with a force that was like a sudden explosion; and a close observer might have sworn that a corner of the big bandana handkerchief swept his eyes.
“I happened to see Sir Hector last night,” he said with some difficulty. “He had just got a letter from young Mr. Hector, and he mentions Aleck.”
“Good news?” she asked quickly.
“Yes, good news.” He could say so much truthfully, and the relief was infinite. “What do you think, Maggie? Aleck’s won the V.C.”
“The V.C.,” she repeated. “That’s a big honor, isn’t it, Tom?”
“It’s the one honor that every soldier covets,” was the reply. “It’s for valor, Maggie—for valor,” he repeated in a thrilling voice. “The whole army salutes the man who gets the V.C., be he private or general.” “Ay,” she said, as if trying to understand what she heard. “Just before going out Aleck was speaking that way. I was wiping my eyes a wee. ‘Never mind mother’, says he, ‘maybe I’ll get the V.C. Don’t be downhearted. I’ll make a proud woman of you yet.’ That was how he talked.”
“And he’s done it,” said the dominie. “He’s done it. You are proud, Maggie. Any woman would be.”
She whipped away a tear; mothers will have moist eyes when they are overcome with joy. “Yes, as you say, any woman would be proud. I used to think Sir
Hector and the rest of them were a little hard on Aleck. But we’ll not speak of that. You’ll notice he says nothing about the honor himself.”
The dominie explained that in wartime the postal authorities indulge in vagaries of transit.
“Aleck must have won it just after he wrote,” he said. “You
see, Mr. Hector’s letter may have had better luck in getting through quick. Anyway, your boy has won the V.C.”
“And what was it for?” she asked eagerly. “What did Aleck do to win what the whole army covets?” The dominie regarded her a moment as if speculating how she would take the answer.
“He saved young Mr. Hector’s life,” he said then. “Saved young Mr. Hector’s life!” she repeated, her eyes wide with amazement.
“Yes. As you know, they have been out there together. In the heat of the fighting Mr. Hector was badly wounded, and lay where he fell. When the fight was over Aleck saw him, went out under fire, and canned him back to safety.”
“That was just Aleck all over,” said Margaret; “and you know what took place between them at home here!” She smiled wistfully; her smile cut the dominie to the heart.
“Aleck didn’t stay to think of that,” he returned. “He just went and did as his own brave and generous heart prompted. That is always the way of heroes.” “It’s hard for his old mother to understand it all,” she remarked, as if such mysteries were beyond her simplicity. “But Mr. Hector wrote it, and so it must be true. What else does the letter say? Is Aleck safe?”
T'HE dominie’s heart stood still. In a sense he could answer, “Yes, Aleck is safe,” but not as she would have it.
Her eyes were fixed upon him. She saw that he hesitated. She saw also that his face had become seared and drawn as in a sudden spasm of pain, and her mother’s intuition flashed in alarm.
“Tom,” she cried, a quick terror in voice and face, “you have ill news as well as good. Has anything happened to Aleck? Is he also wounded? Tell me. Don’t, don’t keep me in suspense!”
He rose and took a step towards her, she, too, rising. He would have taken her in his arms, but that the proprieties forbade. Once she had nestled in them and been rapturously happy, but that was long, long ago, and everything was different now.
“They got in quite safely,” he said, struggling against a choking constriction of the throat. “Then” —his head swam, and it seemed the air was thick with darting sparks of fire. “Then—just as Aleck was
laying Mr. Hector down, a sniper’s bullet”-
“Hit Aleck?” she gasped.
“And—and killed him.”
The dominie bowed his head, fearing to look into the stricken, agonized face before him.
UfllEN he ventured to look up again Margaret ’ ' Gordon stood blenched and rigid,onehand clutching the hack of the chair from which she had just risen. Tie took her gently by the arm. “Sit. down, Maggie,” he said softly.
She obeyed mechanically, and the dominie sat beside her. She did not seem to be aware that he was there, that he held her hand anti was chafing it in an anguish of sympathy. From her bloodless lips came a low moan, to him the inarticulate cry of a breaking heart.
“Margaret,” he whispered. “Dear Maggie, the mother of a hero cannot hut be brave.”
“Aleck is dead,” she said, as if that were the end of all things.
“He died nobly and gloriously," said the dominie, Continued on page 81
The Wings of the Morning
Continued from page 15
striving to keep a steady voice. “Nobly and gloriously, as the great, the good, and the brave of all ages have wished to d’e.”
But she could only l-epeat dismally, “Aleck is dead—dead. My Aleck is
dead, and I cannot even see nun."
Her heart had no room for any other thought.
The dominie had come pi’imed with consolation from the sages. He knew all that Solomon, Socrates, and the rest of them had said on the great questions of life and death. He believed with the Greeks that the beloved of the gods are taken young. He meant to say—what was simple, literal truth—that in his heart he envied Aleck. “Gone at twenty, a hero who gave his life xor another,” he told himself on the way up. “Greater love hath no man than this. Oh ! rare good fortune of the happy boy warrior!”
Hei*oes, he felt, should die young, while the lustre of glory was still fresh upon them. “Ere the evil days come,” he had often thought; “ere the evil days come.” How lucky to spread wings and soar off in the roseate morning, rather than be kept lingering and dawdling into the darkness of night; to escape for ever, without scar or taint, all the corrosions of time, all the malice of fortune ! Surely Aleck was fortunate, thrice fortunate, in his going. On his way to High Croft the dominie had said all this and more to himself with absolute conviction and sincerity. But face to face with her, he could not say it to Aleck’s mother, not if it were certified wisdom, set with rubies and bound in gold. He could only stroke the hand he held, incoherently murmuring commonplaces of comfort.
At last she suddenly leaned forward upon the table and broke into a storm of weeping; and Thomas Dunning was devoutly glad, for he knew that to the stricken heart tears are salvation.
\JEXT day was Sunday, but instead of 1 ■L ^ putting on Sabbath-day blacks and j dutifully answering the call of the kirk I bell, the dominie decided to take his , weekly allowance of p7-eaching by pi'oxy. Accordingly Janet occupied the “school pew” in solitary state and vast secret displeasure. For Janet had a grievance, j the sort of grievance trusting woinen so often have against sly, deluding man. She had not been deceived, thanks to her own cuteness ; but the attempt to deceive was palpable.
“I wouldn’t have believed it o’ him,” thought Janet, as the small broken* winded organ began to wheeze out a jerky prelude. “No, I wouldn’t,” she 7*epeated, as the minister, stately and solemn, entered, and mounted the pulpit stairs. “What would he think o’ ane o’ his elders tryin’ to bamboozle his auld hoosekeeper? To tell me he was for a whiff o’ hill-wind to cure a headache when a’ the time I kent fine he was off to see Margaret Gordon. David was richt. Men are a’ quirky; and he’s just like the lave o’ them. It’s for marryin’ her he’ll be, for a’ that’s come and gone. What Ihn wonderin’ is if ae hoose will he big enough to hold me an’ her.-
She knew what had happened, and of course was sorry for Marga7-et Gordon, with the sorrow of a spinster for a weeping Rachel. But she could not fo7-give the dominie. These thoughts so engrossed Janet that she could not find the text in all her Bible, heard not a word of the sermo7i, and almost broke into singing whe7i others were composing themselves for prayer. When the ordeal of public worship wab over, and gossip had bee77 duly exchanged at the kirk door, she returned to a cold dinner in an exceedingly hot state of mind. That she had the dinner all to herself was part of the dominie’s duplicity.
A charge of duplicity was perhaps justified, though not precisely as Janet suspected. While the church bells jangled out their cracked summons Thomas Dunning “locked in” at High Croft, “just to say, ‘How d’ye do?’” in the passing. He remembered that Margaret had not seen Mr. Hector’s letter. Perhaps she would like to read it for herself. He would therefore leave it and call for it on his way back. No, thanks, he would have nothing. One climbed all the better for going light. Then, remarking that the day was warm, and good for growing crops, he turned once more to the hill above. Margaret understood. “Tom is always tactful and delicate,” she said to herself. On his part he was saying, “She hasn’t slept a wink all night, and her eyes, oh ! poor thing, I could scarcely bear to look at them.”
FOR a quarter of a mile, that is to say, as long as he was within sight of High Croft, the dominie walked rapidly; then finding himself in solitude he sat down on a mossy, sun-warmed rock and thought of Margaret Gordon.
Three hours later he returned, and she was waiting for him, pitiably white, but dry-eyed and composed. Together they went inside, and this time he consented to have refreshments—of scone, fresh butter, and creamy heather-milk, which would have superseded nectar had it been known on Olympus. Thus braced, he cleared his throat—somehow he had all at once become a victim to hoarseness—and cautiously referred to Mr. Hector’s letter.
“It’s a fine, generous letter,” said Margaret simply. “I’ll always love Mr. Hector for what he says in it. Yes, though I’m far, far away from High Croft.”
The last part of the statement was a clear lapse, and nearly cost Margaret her studied, resolute self-possession.
“Yes,” he agreed, noting her effort to be calm. “The letter of one brave man paying tribute to another. Sir Hector is deeply touched.”
He appeared to be going on; but, instead, turned abruptly and looked out of the window. The rich flush of midsummer was on the scene ; a Sabbath peace was in the air. All thought of war seemed remote, alien, and incongruous.
“It’s bonnie,” he murmured. “Theocritus would have loved it.” And then, with a sidelong look, “You wouldn’t like to leave it, would you, Maggie?”
“It just needs that to break my heart altogether,” she answered. “That would do it.”
There was a long pause. “Wouldn't it be hard for you to carry on alone?” he asked then.
“Oh ! I could do it,” was the emphatic reply. “And now that they’re all gone, it’s what I’d like to do.”
The dominie gulped something invisible. “Maggie,” he said, not too successfully keeping the gulp out of his voice, “there’s one thing I have to say, and it’s this—that go or stay, Sir Hector is your very good friend. I have seen him again, and he authorized me to tell you that.” She looked at him searchingly. “Tom,” she cried, “you have been pleading for me.”
“Never a word,” he replied promptly. “Never so much as a single word. You should have heard what he says about Aleck.”
“Then if he’s my friend he’ll let me stay here,” said Margaret. “I have some help, and I’m used to working. Tom, do this for me, and tell Sir Hector he will have every penny of his own—every penny.”
“Believe me, he’s not thinking of that,” the dominie assured her.
But he did not argue. Instead, he acted.
THE very next day Margaret received a letter which made her giddy with excitement. She glanced at the address —“Carbenny Castle”; she glanced at the signature—Sir Hector’s. The letter, in the baronet’s own hand, was as follows: “Dear Mrs. Gordon,—Our common friend, Mr. Dunning, informs me that you desire to remain at High Croft. I greatly regret that I cannot see my way to comply with your wish” (Margaret nearly collapsed) “because it is contrary to pending arrangements. In the provi-
dence of God and at the call of duty, you: have been deprived of those to whom yon would naturally look for help. My heart goes out to you—but I will not dwell on that. What I have to say is that for all our sakes I think it best you should leave High Croft. Therefore you shall have choice of two other houses. Whichever you choose shall be rent free as long as you care to occupy it, and I trust you will accept such a supplement to your income as will be sufficient for the comfort I should like you to have. I beg this as a favor and not in any sense as a return for what you and yours have done for me and mine. That is beyond payment. You see, I assume you will do us the honor of remaining on the estate. For the rest, with your permission, you shall have assistance in winding up things at High Croft. My advice, dear Mrs. Gordon, is that you just leave the bother of winding up and flitting to us men-folk.
“My son is already in hospital in London. As soon as ever the surgeons are done with him he will be home. His mother, who sends her love and sympathy, thinks our Highland air will do him more good than all the apothecary’s stuff in England. You may be sure he will take the very earliest opportunity of calling and expressing to you in person something of what we all feel.
“Please let me know that all this is agreeable to you. God sustain and bless you, now and always.”
Margaret was glad she was permitted to read that letter by herself, that no one was by to witness the grateful, tender, distressing tears she shed over it. “My Aleck,” she sobbed, “saved me in the end, as he said he would. And Mr. Hector, yes, I’ll always love Mr. Hector.”
SHE met Mr. Hector soon, but not in the quietness of her own Highland hills as had been planned. Before he could cpme home she went up to London, first-class, at Sir Hector’s expense, to receive from the King’s own hand the decoration won but never worn by Aleck. The dominie accompanied her, for, as Sir Hector pointed out with clinching force, she could never be trusted to go alone.
“The tumult and confusion would simply stun and bewilder her,” he said. “Ten to one, she’d be run over by some careering fool or ever she got near Buckingham Palace. So she needs you. Eh! What’s that? The school. Fiddlesticks! The Board aren’t idiots; and when did scholars object to a holiday?” The scholars accordingly had their holiday. “In honor,” the master was careful to explain, “of one who has brought lasting glory to our school.” The weather being fine, it was an open-air investiture, and when Margaret, who would fain have hidden at the last moment, was conducted into the Royal presence, a small, white, trembling figure, lost, as it seemed, in the sea of uniforms, the Cockney crowd cheered lustily. There was more cheering when the King presented the little Maltese Cross with the bit of crimson ribbon which would for ever tell the tale of Aleck’s valor and sacrifice. She curtseyed in acknowledgment and was turning away, but the King detained her to praise Aleck’s bravery and say how well the proud distinction was deserved. Finally he shook hands, “warm and friendly, just as if he had known me all my life,” said Margaret afterwards. She had not imagined kings capable of shaking hands in that fashion. As she made her way to the rear, smiling through her tears and holding her treasure tight, the watching, eager crowd exploded in another and more prolonged cheer. She turned quickly round, as if afraid. “Don’t you be a-takin’ on, missis,” she was told sympathetically. “ ’E was a good boy as got ’e that, mum.” “Thank you for that,” said Margaret simply.
Mr. Hector stood beside the dominie, waiting for her. He was on crutches (that was why he had not attended her before them all, and at sight of him she stopped, a quick look of pity in her face. “Oh, Mr Hector, dear!” she cried, scarcely noticing his salute, “but I’m sorry to see you like this.”
“I am very thankful to be like this, Mrs. Gordon,” he answered. “If it hadn’t been for Sergeant Gordon I shouldn’t have been here at all. I’m glad to have seen what I’ve seen to-day. My father has told you all, hasn’t be?”
“Yes, sir, he has told me all.”
She caught her lip. He understood and withheld something be greatly wanted to say. By-and-by she would be better able to listen.
A motor was in readiness, and he took the two to the little hotel off the Strand (recommended by Sir Hector), where they had put up for one night. Thence he took them to Euston, and, in spite of crutches, insisted on conducting Margaret to her carriage.
“Tell them at home I’m getting on famously,” he said at parting, “and that I’ll be north in no time. It’s mortal dull work getting well in London here.” Only when the train was starting and he held Margaret’s hand a moment did he venture to bint some fraction of what was in bis heart. She was infinitely grateful for bis reticence.
“I don’t think I could have held up if he had spoken much of Aleck,” she confided to the dominie.
TANET, with a small company of intimate and particular friends, received Margaret in her new home, which was just ready and passed by Sir Hector
as fit for occupation. By one of the j coincidences in which truth plagiarizes ¡ so shamefully from fiction it chanced to i stand next neighbor to the school-house. Janet looked wise and prophetic.
“Ay, just so,” she remarked. “I’m thinkin’ it’s no exactly for nothing they’re gable to gable. It runs in my mind that it’s under the same roof they’ll be afore a’s owre.”
And Janet was right. One day, some months later, a gossip ran to ber in a state of high excitement, with a certain question.
“Ay, it’s quite true,” announced Janet, “as I kent weel it would be. Margaret Gordon is to be Margaret Dunning. Astonished are ye? Ye’d be fair dumfoonered if ye saw what I see. Daft, that’s what the poor man is—clean daft. Canna eat or sleep for uiinktn’ o’ bis dearie. An’, my word, sic preparations! The drawin’-room’s to be pented an’ papered. There’s to be grand new upholstery an’ pictirs an’ a carpet, forbv a braw brass bed an’s a wbeen o’ whigmaleeries upstairs. An’ the pension’s to go on. The maister an’ Sir Hector had words ower it; but Sir Hector would have it so, or doon comes the moon aboot our heids. No, I’m no leavin’. He says I maun bide an’ take care o’ her. Twa to cook an’ clean for instead o’ ane. It’s grand to be so muckle thocht o’. My eertie!”
Janet was the most loyal of women and the best of housekeepers; but the mysteries of sentiment were far beyond her ken.