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CHAPTER VIII
‘I would not have thought,’ said Miss Catherine, looking steadily at young Stapylton, who had gone to pay her a visit, ‘that the farming over the hill was worth so long study. They must be wearying for you at home.’

‘There are more things than the farming,’ said Horace; ‘there is the grouse, for instance, and it will soon be September. The folks at home have to make up their mind to it. A man is not like a girl.’

‘The Lord forbid!’ said Miss Catherine, ‘or fathers and mothers would have little comfort of their lives. I hope there’s a pleasant young sister to keep them company at home.’

‘Oh, there are three girls, thank you,’ said young Stapylton, carelessly, ‘they are jolly enough. It’s against my principles to be always turning up at the Hall. What is the good of being young if one is not to have a little freedom? I suppose I shall settle down some time like my father. It’s very respectable and all that, but it’s not amusing. Women never can understand a man. You think we should be tied down to all the old cut-and-dry habits like yourselves.’

‘No,’ said Miss Catherine, ‘it is not to be expected we should understand you. We are creatures of a lower class, as is well known. But still you know the very dogs come to a kind of comprehension of their masters. I would think the Hall and the neighbours you have known all your days, and the hunting and such like, would have as many charms as Mr. Lothian and the grouse. It’s but a poor sphere for you here.’

‘Well, I suppose so long as I am content, that is enough,’ said Horace, with a feeling that he was being laughed at; and then he added, with an attempt at sarcasm, ‘Besides there are a great many superior people here; and this movement is very interesting to a student of human nature, you know.’

‘And what does a student of human nature make of the movement?’ said Miss Catherine, grimly, looking at the young fellow with her penetrating grey eyes. He was not the blasé young man of the present day, experienced in everything and weary of all. He was not sufficiently polished for the soft sneer and universal derision now current among us, but he was the first rough sketch of that accomplished personage; the fashion had come in, or at least had reached to his level. But it was a rough species of the art, and only good as an essay.{49}

‘Well,’ said Horace, with a certain grandeur, an air which had often imposed upon Isabel, who knew no better, ‘I suppose it is just one of the ordinary religious swindles. But the simplicity of the people makes it look better than usual, to begin with. And it is only beginning. One can’t tell at first what follies such a business may fall into. The woman is mad, I suppose; or else she has taken this way of thrusting herself into notice. She is rather pretty, too. Somebody might be fool enough to marry her, if she was taken up by the better class. As for the men, I suppose they have some motive: ambition to be first among their neighbours, or love of excitement, or something. It is like whisky; and then it don’t lead to trouble as whisky does.’

Miss Catherine was much opposed to ‘the movement’ herself; but her soul was moved within her by this speech.

‘Do you tell them your opinions as frankly at the Glebe?’ she said, quietly; and her companion changed colour somewhat at the question.

‘Well, you know, the eldest girl is of the same way of thinking,’ he said. ‘It is quite natural she should be. She is very ill, and she must come to that, sooner or later: and then they all think it’s a chance for her to get better. I don’t wonder, in the least, at Margaret. The other—don’t know what to think,’ he added, with a little reluctance: ‘but, of course, one would not shock the feelings of two girls.’

‘That’s good of you,’ said Miss Catherine; ‘and I see the force of what you say. Religion is what we must all come to, sooner or later. It’s a very fine way of putting it, and shows a perception of character—But, my young friend, is it right of you to turn your steps night after night towards the Glebe? I am never at my west window in the evening, but I see you with your face that way. They are gentlewomen by the mother’s side, and no farther off than fifth cousins from the family at Ardallan: but their father was only a trooper, and they have little siller. Would your father be pleased with such a bride as Isabel for his heir? Not but what she is fit for a duke,’ said Miss Catherine, warmly, once more fixing her companion with her eye.

‘Bride?’ said the young man, blushing violently, and gazing at her, surprised; and then, for the first time, his tone changed. ‘She is sweet enough, and pretty enough, for a queen,’ he said; and then added—‘if that were all!’ with a sigh.

‘Yes, but it is not all,’ said Miss Catherine, somewhat melted. ‘There are many things to be taken into consideration. Old folk and young folk have different{50} notions; and unless your people know what you’re doing, Mr. Horace, my advice would be that you should go no more to the Glebe.’

‘Oh, that’s all nonsense!’ said Horace, recovering himself. ‘Things have not gone so far as that. Poor little thing! she wants some amusement; her sister is always ill, and nobody with her but that woman. She is a pretty little thing, and I like to talk to her; and so, it appears, does she to me.’

‘And that is all?’ said Miss Catherine, with a return of the grimness to her face.

‘That is all,’ said Horace, lightly, ‘we may chatter to each other I hope now and then without going to the last extremity. I know what you are going to say, that there is somebody else ready to step in, and that I am standing in the way of her prospects.—Such prospects!—a man old enough to be her father, with a humdrum Manse to offer her. She ought to do better than that. In short, I am a defence to keep Mr. Lothian off,’ he added, with a laugh, which his high colour and the contraction of his forehead belied. ‘Confound the old inquisitor!’ he was saying to himself, ‘what has she to do with it—am I bound to tell her everything?’ Miss Catherine’s looks grew blacker and blacker as she listened.

‘You give a bonnie account of yourself,’ she said, ‘if you want nothing but to chatter with her, how dare ye stand between her and an honest man that loves her? When Margaret dies—and we all know that calamity cannot be long averted—is it your will, for the sake of your amusement, that a bonnie, tender creature should be left without friend or guide in the world? Yes, I know what you think,’ said Miss Catherine, growing hot; ‘you think she’s so soft and sweet, that you can play as you please. But mind what I say, you may go too far with Isabel; she is young, and younger than she might be, but she is not of a light nature to be guided by you. If you play her false, be it in one way, be it in another, you’ll get your punishment. Now you have heard what I have to say, and you can go on your own way, and take your own course, like all your kind; but you’ve got warning of what will follow. And now, Mr. Horace Stapylton,’ said Miss Catherine, rising and making him a stately curtsey, ‘I am obliged to bid you good day.’

Horace started to his feet amazed beyond description by this dismissal. ‘I am shocked to have intruded upon you,’ he said, angrily; ‘I shall take care never to repeat the infliction.’

‘That shall be as you please,’ said Miss Catherine,{51} with another curtsey, and the young man found himself with artful incaution to Isabel, when despite all that had occurred, he succeeded in meeting her ‘by accident’ on the hill: ‘and all for your sake. You are getting out of the room and out of the house almost before he recovered his consciousness. ‘Old hag!’ he said to himself, ‘old Scotch cat!—venomous old maid!’ as he walked down the avenue. But he was worsted notwithstanding, and felt his defeat.

‘She turned me out of the house,’ he said, afterwards, ‘me into disgrace with everybody. They upbraid me for following you, for taking up your time, for keeping others away; and the folk at home write to ask if I am never coming back. People look glum at me wherever I go for your sake, and you will do nothing for me: I must say it is rather too bad.’

‘I would do anything for you,’ said Isabel. ‘I would not mind what all the world might say. They might gloom at me, and welcome; what would I care? anything but one thing, Horace—and that you know—you see—I could not do.’

‘Which, of course, is the only thing I want,’ said the young man, sullenly. ‘That is always the way with girls.’

‘And why should you want it so?’ said Isabel, eagerly. ‘We’re young, and we can wait. If all your folk were ready and willing, could I leave my Margaret? Horace, you know as well as I do she has been my comfort a’ my days; there is not one like her far or near. If you think, as other folk think, that Ailie is nearer God than our Margaret, oh, it shows how little you know,’ cried Isabel, with the hot colour rushing over her face; ‘and could I forsake her that has been like a mother to me? What is love, if it’s like that?’

‘I don’t think you know what love means,’ said Horace: ‘it is to give up all for one; it is to forsake father and mother—and your past life—and your prospects, as people call them—and good sense and caution and prudence, and all your Scotch qualities;—that is what love is, Isabel; to think of nobody, and care for nobody, but one; to give all your heart, and not a bit of it. I don’t ask you for a bit of it; I want you all—every thought, every feeling. I want you to give up everybody and come to me—to me!’ and here the young man opened his arms and turned to her with a look of passion which startled the girl. She made a sudden sidelong step beyond one of the great heather clumps before she answered. The colour changed from red to pale on her face; but she kept her eyes fixed on him, with a look of eagerness and wistfulness, trying to penetrate beneath the surface and see his heart.{52}

‘Horace,’ she said, softly, ‘you and me are different—a man and a girl are different, I suppose. That is not what it is to me. It is something that makes life better, and stronger, and sweeter. I’m fonder of Margaret, I’m better to the bairns. Don’t turn away like that. It is like wine,’ cried the girl, with light rising in her eyes; ‘it gives you strength for all you have to do. You’re at your work, you’re minding your house, you’re vexed and wearied and troubled—and lo, you give a glance out of the window, and you see him pass, and all your trouble rolls away! That’s love to me. When you turn round and give me a smile, it’s like wine,’ cried Isabel once more; ‘I feel it all about my heart—I go back to my work, and something sings within me. I am neither tired nor troubled more. That’s love to me! And the world’s bonnier and the sky’s brighter,’ she went on faltering, ‘Oh, Horace, surely you know what I mean?’

‘No, I don’t know what you mean,’ cried the young man, with a kind of brutality. ‘I never understand your Scotch. If this is the sort of figure I am to cut, making you devote yourself more to Margaret and the bairns, as you call them, I had better take myself off, it would seem. A fellow is not to lose the best days of his life for such a reward as that.’

Isabel looked at him with but partial comprehension; her point of view was more elevated than his, but yet it was limited, like his, to her own side of the question. She looked at his clouded brow and averted face with a woman’s first violent effort to enter into a state of feeling which was the antipodes of her own. Slowly it dawned upon her that it might be as just as her own though so different. She clasped her arms round the slender white stem of a young birch-tree, and leant against it, gazing at her lover with dreamy eyes.

‘Maybe it’s all true,’ she said, slowly, ‘both what I think and what you think, Horace. It will break my heart, but I can bear it if that is best. Go away into the world, and please your own folk—and I’ll wait for you; I’ll wait all my life; I’ll wait years and years. Why should you lose your best days for me? Oh, I see well it is neither just nor right; and me that has so little to give! It’s a sin to keep you here,’ she continued, tears, unthought of, dropping from her eyes. ‘Loch Diarmid comes natural to me, and folk forget—But go, Horace, and think on me sometimes; and my heart will go with you; and if you should ever come back you’ll find me waiting here.’

‘Isabel, this is all folly and nonsense,’ cried young Stapylton. ‘What are you crying about? am I talking{53} of going away? It is all very easy to send a fellow off and make a fuss, or to keep him hanging on, and kicking his heels among this confounded heather. Can’t you do what I want you instead? it’s simple enough. What’s the good of living in Scotland if you can’t get married how you please? If I were to go away I might never come back. They’d keep fast hold of me at home, or they’d pack me off somewhere out of reach; and you would change, and I might change. Who can undertake what would happen? I don’t believe in comings back. I should find you Mrs. Somebody or other with half a dozen—— Hallo, where are you going now?’

‘I’m going home,’ said Isabel, drying her tears indignantly. ‘It’s late, and I cannot enter into such questions. I am not one to change; but, Mr. Stapylton, if that’s your way of thinking it’s far best it should all come to an end. I don’t want to be married. I will never leave my sister. If you will have an answer yes or no, there’s your answer. Never, never, if she should live a dozen years!—and God send she may live a dozen years, and a dozen more to that!’ cried Isabel with a sob. ‘My Margaret, that never has a thought but for me! And to bid me run away and shame the house, and break her heart—and to call it love!’ said the girl, with an outburst of tears.

She had come back to the birch and leant her pretty head upon the graceful young tree, which waved its tender branches over her with a curious sympathetic resemblance to her own drooping form, while her lover drew near her slowly, his heart melting, though his temper was still ruffled. He was going to her to take her in his arms, to whisper his final arguments, to woo her with his breath on her cheek. At such a moment it did not occur to the young man to look around him, to guard against interruption; and, perhaps, in the soft twilight he could scarcely have perceived the lonely personage who was winding with a noiseless step among the heather, full of her own thoughts.

The dew was falling among the slender birches, and on the heather and gorse—the wild gale underfoot filled the air with sweetness, and with this soft perfume came the soft stir of silence, the breath of the great quiet, which gave a musical tone to the atmosphere. The shadows were falling over the loch and the hills; points of view that had been visible one moment were invisible the next; and all at once, up in the blue heavens, stars were revealing themselves, here and there one, like lamps among the clouds. A night to tempt anyone to linger in the open air, in the quiet, sweet, soft, darkling, humid twilight, full of the silences and splendours of nature,{54} and unawares moved by some brooding of God. The other figure which, veiled by night, and by abstracting thought, was wandering devious on those hills, thinking little of where she went or whom she met, was in her way a better embodiment of the sentiment of the night than were the agitated lovers. It was Ailie Macfarlane come out to roam at eventide like Isaac. She had a shawl over her head after the primitive fashion common to all nations, her head veiled because of the angels. Sometimes she stumbled among the heather, not remarking whither her foot strayed. The darkling world in which those solemn hills stood up each folded in his twilight mantle, with stars about his head and a forehead wet with dew, was full of God to the inspired maiden. Her eyes were moist, like all the earth, with dew. Her mind was full, not of thought but of a quiet consciousness. The poetry that was love to Isabel was to Ailie, God. She was in His presence, His great eyes were upon her, at any moment she might hear His voice calling to her, as Adam heard it in the cool of the garden. As she strayed upon the hills alone with that great trembling, thrilling Nature which was conscious, too, of His presence, the Lord had strayed communing with His Father. He had passed the whole night there, as His servant was not able to do. He had gone down the darkling slopes and set his foot, unaware of the restrictions of nature, upon the gleaming silvery waters below as she could have done on the loch had her faith been but strong enough. ‘More faith! more faith!’ she murmured to herself as she went, ‘O Lord, increase my faith.’ Her young soul was burning within her with the cravings which Margaret Diarmid had divined; not soft submission to Him that rules Heaven and earth, but eager anticipations, restless energy, a heart full of passion. Joan of Arc might so have strayed on her southern moors; though it was from the yoke of Satan that Ailie longed to deliver her people—from wickedness, and disease, and misery. Why should not she? Had not the Lord promised whatsoever ye ask? Had not He granted to all eyes authentic wonders? Was His arm shortened that it could not save? or was there anything wanted but faith, more faith?

The sound of voices roused her from her abstraction, first to a sudden flush of annoyance, and then, as she perceived the two figures before her, to a warm thrill of zeal for their conversion. ‘The Lord has delivered them into my hand,’ the enthusiast said to herself. Their backs were turned to her, and their minds so much occupied that even the crackle of the heather under her foot did not betray her approach. She was close by their{55} side, laying a sudden hand upon the shoulder of each before they were even aware of her presence.

‘What do ye here?’ said Ailie, rising as it seemed to them like a ghost out of the darkness. The two sprang apart and gazed at the intruder, but Ailie was too much absorbed by her office to heed their looks. ‘Isabel Diarmid,’ she repeated with solemnity, ‘what do you here?’

‘I was doing nothing,’ said Isabel, startled back into self-possession: ‘I might say what were you doing coming upon folk like a ghost?’

‘If ye mean a spirit,’ said Ailie, ‘it’s like that I wish to come. What is this poor body that we should let it thrall us? If I had faith I might fly upon angel’s wings: but oh! I’m feared it was not to serve the Lord that you two came here. Na, stand apart, and let me speak. Can ye see a’ this world round about ye, and no feel that you’re immortal? Isabel, the Lord would fain have ye to be His servant—and you too, young man.’

‘Oh, Ailie, I’m no like you,’ murmured Isabel, awed out of her first self-assertion. As for Stapylton, he turned away with contemptuous impatience.

‘What does she know about it?’ he said. ‘Isabel, don’t you give in to this rubbish. Nobody has any right to intrude upon another. Tell her to mind her own business.’ This was said in a low tone. ‘Come, I’ll see you home. It is getting late,’ he said, aloud.

‘Ah!’ said Ailie, ‘it’s getting late, awfu’ late. The blackness of the night is coming on afore the awfu’ dawn. Think what it will be when you canna go home, nor find a place to hide yourself in from the brightness of His coming. Worldly wisdom would bid you join yourselves to Him now. But I’m no thinking of worldly wisdom. To stand up for Him in a dark world; to go forth like the angels, and make the way clear; to love and to bless, and to give life for death. O Isabel! O young man! I would rather that than Heaven.’

Ailie, with her young face gleaming white in the twilight, her nervous arm raised, her abstracted, humid eyes gazing into the vacant darkness, was a creature whose influence it was hard to be altogether indifferent to. Stapylton, though he was capable of laughter at this exhibition ten minutes after, was, at least, silenced for the moment. He looked at her with that curious stupidity, in which the ordinary mind loses its faculties at the sight of such incomprehensible poetic exaltation. But Isabel, already excited, gazed upon the young prophetess with the big tears still standing in her eyes, drawn by one emotion more closely within the reach of another than she had yet been.

‘I am not standing against Him! Oh, Ailie, dinna{56} think it! Not for the world!’ she cried, dropping those two great tears; and Nature gave a little gasp and sob within her. To go forth with God’s servants on this austere road, or to wander with her love in the primrose paths. If there was a choice to be made, could anyone doubt for a moment which would be the right choice? But Isabel felt herself so different from this inspired creature, so different even from Margaret, so much slighter, younger, more trifling, fond of praise and admiration, and amusement; not able to give her mind to it. And yet she was the same age as Margaret, and very little younger than Ailie. ‘I am not like you,’ she added, with an exquisite sense of her own imperfection, which brought other tears from those same sources. And then the feminine impulse of excuse came upon her: ‘We were meaning nothing,’ she said, hurriedly and humbly. ‘I met Mr. Stapylton here on the hill. And it’s a bonnie night. You were walking yourself, Ailie. And I’m going home. It was no harm.’

‘Oh, Isabel, ye never mind how you weary the Lord with your contradictions,’ said the prophetess. ‘I canna see your heart like Him; but do you think I canna see what’s moved ye? No the bonnie night, nor the bonnie hill, nor His presence that’s brooding ower a’ the world; but a lad that says he loves you, Isabel. There’s nae true love that’s no in Christ. If he’s true, let him come to the Lord with ye this moment, afore this blessed hour is gane. Eh, my heart’s troubled,’ she cried, suddenly raising her arms; ‘my heart’s sore for you. If he comes not now, when the Lord is holding wide the door, it’s that he’ll never come; and then there is nothing for you but tribulation and sorrow, and lamentation and woe!’

Her voice sank as suddenly as it had risen. She pressed her hands upon her eyes, with what seemed, to the terrified Isabel, the gesture of one who shuts out something terrible from her vision.

‘It is the spirit that’s upon her,’ Isabel murmured to herself, shivering. ‘Oh, Ailie, dinna lay any curse on us, that never did you harm!’

‘Curse!’ she said, so low that they could scarcely hear her. ‘It’s no for me to curse. He had no curses in His mind, and wherefore should I? It was a cloud that passed. Isabel, bring yon lad to God, bring him to God! or he’ll bring you to misery, and trouble, and pain. I am saying the truth. It’s borne in on me that he’ll bring you awfu’ trouble. But if he comes to the Lord, ye’ll break Satan’s spell.’

Stapylton had turned aside in impatience, and heard nothing of this; but now he came forward and laid his hand on Isabel’s arm.{57}

‘Your sister will want you,’ he said, almost roughly; ‘it is getting late, and this is not the place for a prayer-meeting; let me take you home.’

‘Oh, Ailie, I must go home to my Margaret,’ said Isabel, clasping her hands. Nature was contending, with natural awe and reverence, in the girl’s mind. She did not reject the authority of the holy maid for one moment—she was ready to yield to its power; but as soon as the possibility of escape became visible to her, she seized it anxiously. ‘She’ll be waiting and watching for me; and you know how ill she is, and I must not keep her anxious,’ pleaded Isabel; ‘but I’ll think upon all you say.’

‘Aye, gang your ways, gang your ways,’ said Ailie, turning her back upon them and dismissing them with a wave of her hand. ‘Put it off to a convenient season; wait till you’re hardened in your worldly thoughts, and the Lord has shut-to the door; but dinna come then and say, Give us of your oil, for there will be nane to give in that day—nane to give! The market’s open the noo, and plenty to fill your vessels; but in that day there will be nane. Gang your ways to Margret, and tell her she’s but a faint heart, that will lie down and die, when the Lord has that need of her for His work. I’m no saying she’s not a child of God, but she has a faint heart. Gang your ways.’

‘If you knew my Margaret better, ye would never dare to speak like this,’ said Isabel, flushing into opposition. Stapylton drew her hand into his arm, and led her away.

‘Come now,’ he said, ‘come while she has turned her head. I want no more sermons for my part. Your sister is waiting, Isabel—come! this is too much for me.’

Isabel suffered herself to be led across the heather, scarcely aware, in her excitement, of the close pressure with which her lover held her hand. She was angry for Margaret’s sake. ‘Nobody understands,’ she murmured to herself. ‘Nobody knows what they’re saying. Her to be blamed that is the flower of all!’ and turned her head, notwithstanding Stapylton’s opposition, to maintain her sister’s cause against her rival. But Ailie had turned away. She was going back, moving slowly among the heather, with her head bent and her eyes cast down, dreaming after her fashion, though not dreams like those of Isabel. Ailie was thinking—with much confusion of images and vagueness of apprehension, but with the exalted glow of ascetic passion—of the love of God. Poor Isabel was trembling with all the complications, the duties, and desires going contradictory to each other which adhere to the love of man.{58}

‘I suppose she must be mad,’ said Stapylton; ‘nothing but madness could account for it. That is what comes of prayer-meetings and such stuff. Or if she’s not mad, she’s cunning and likes the power.’

‘And how do you think you can judge?’ cried Isabel, turning upon him with the ready irritation of excitement,—‘you that know nothing of Ailie, nor of her way of living. If you were healed all in a moment and raised out of your bed, who would you believe did it but God? and could you stop to think and consider the question if you were mad or not, before you spoke. Let them judge that know!’

‘Never mind,’ said the young man, caressing the hand he held, ‘you little fury! I don’t know and I don’t care; but you never thanked me for reminding you of your sister, and freeing you from that mad creature. Now she is gone there is no hurry, Isabel. It is not late, after all.’

‘But Margaret will want me,’ said the girl. ‘No; I’ll not wait, I must go home.’

‘Only half an hour,’ he pleaded; ‘she is gone, and we have all the hill-side to ourselves.’

Isabel made no answer, but she drew her hand from his arm, and continued on her way, quickening rather than delaying her progress. He walked by her for some time, sullen and lowering. He had no comprehension of the high spirit of the girl, though he loved her. After a while he drew closer to her side, and laid his hand on her arm.

‘You must do as I said, my darling, now,’ he said, with real fervour. ‘She is going back to her meeting, and it will be all over the parish to-morrow, that you and I were courting on the hill.’

This was the drop too much that made Isabel’s cup run over. She turned upon him with eyes that flashed through her tears. ‘Do you reproach me with it?’ she cried—‘you I did it for? Oh, if I had known! But, Mr. Stapylton, it shall be the last time.’

‘Don’t turn my words against me,’ he said, ‘don’t be so peevish, so foolish, Isabel! as if it was that I meant.’

‘No, I’ll not be foolish,’ she answered, in her heat, ‘nor think shame of myself for any lad. After this ye may be sure, Mr. Stapylton, I’ll never do it again.’

And then she hastened down, increasing her speed at every step, and taking no time to think. And he went sullenly by her side, not quite sure whether he loved or hated her most in her perversity. And they parted with a curt, resentful good night at the very door of the Glebe Cottage, he being too angry and she too proud to linger over the parting. It was a parting{59} which all the world might have witnessed. And Isabel returned to her quiet home, and Horace proceeded on to the village, each with the blaze of a lover’s quarrel quivering about them. Such flames are too hot and sudden to last; but nothing had yet done so much to separate them as had this unexpected meeting with Ailie on the hill.



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