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CHAPTER XIX
Stapylton sought the trysting-place on the hill on the decisive day with all the excitement natural to the crisis, but with little fear of the result. He had taken none of the precautions of which he had spoken to Isabel. What need was there of precautions? she would wear a veil of course, and a cloak. The road to Kilcranion was little frequented, especially on such a day; and by the time Kilcranion was reached, they would be, to some extent, among strangers, not liable to recognition at every step as here. He made up for himself a small bag of necessaries, put the money he had just received to carry him home in his pocket, buttoned his greatcoat, and took his way through the drizzling rain to the hill-side.

He had loitered there for about half an hour watching for traces of Isabel’s approach, and gradually beginning to be angry, when the rain suddenly stopped,{120} and the sky cleared ever so little. That was so far good. He put down his bag, and lighted a cigar to comfort himself as he waited. Below where he stood, just within sight, the thatched roof of the Glebe Cottage rose like some natural growth out of the heather. No doubt she must have waited for this moment; though why she should have waited, keeping him in the rain, he could not imagine. However it was a pardonable sin if she came now. This thought went through his mind just at the moment when Isabel, rising to go to him, fell back and fainted in her chair. He paced up and down the wet turf, and smoked his cigar, and looked for her, calculating in his own mind how long the weather would ‘keep up,’ and whether there might be time to reach Kilcranion before it came on to rain again. Another half-hour, it might be, was spent in these speculations; and then he took out his watch suddenly, and woke to the consciousness that he had been waiting for an hour on the moor, that the steamer must be gone from Kilcranion, and that the way of escape unobserved was closed to them for that night.

It would be difficult to describe the rage which rose in a moment in his mind. She, whom he thought so entirely subject to him, whom he had felt to be delivered over to him bound hand and foot when she was deprived of her sister—had Isabel rebelled against his influence? Had she cast him off? It did not seem possible. He would—but was that Isabel? It seemed to him he could hear sounds from the cottage; the noise of doors opening and shutting—a babble of tongues. Could they be detaining her by force? But then no one in the world had any right to detain her—she was absolutely free. Still there was some agitation about the Glebe. He snatched up his bag, not without a private imprecation upon Isabel for making him thus ridiculous, that he should have to drag it about from one place to another; and then he turned rapidly down the hill. Someone came out of the cottage as he got full in sight of it—someone whom he easily divined to be Mr. Lothian. ‘Confound him!’ said the young fellow; what was he doing there just at the moment when Stapylton’s fate was being decided? Could she have consulted him? Was it through the minister’s plotting that his purpose had thus been brought to nothing? The young man hurried down, carrying in his hand, and cursing the troublesome bag, which but for her—— it was a small matter, but it exasperated him more than a greater. He had half a mind to fling it at the cottage door, and order Jamie to carry it for him for sixpence, by way of driving the stepmother out of her senses. But surely there was{121} something strange going on at the Glebe. Jenny Spence had just come out with another woman, and stood in audible colloquy with her at the door. ‘You’ll tell the doctor she’s come to hersel,’ said Jenny. ‘It lasted an hour, Jean thinks. But time looks awfu’ long when folk are feared, and maybe it wasna an hour. She’s come to hersel, and very quiet, and there’s nae such haste as we thought. But for a’ that, tell him he’s to come on here as soon as he can.’

‘And will I say what was the cause?’ said the messenger, while Stapylton listened eagerly.

‘He’s mair likely to tell us,’ said the other; ‘the first thing she asked was, What o’clock was it? And when she heard gave an awfu’ sigh, and syne lay as quiet as a wean—though what the clock had to do with it Gude kens. I hope it’s no her head; that would be worse of a’.’

‘But she’s ay been real healthy and strong. A body in trouble may faint, and yet no be that ill after a’.’

‘But ye see decline’s in the family,’ said Jenny Spence, and then they parted, the one returning to the house, the other speeding on her mission. The bag grew less oppressive in Stapylton’s hands. His clouded brow cleared a little. After all, she had not meant to leave him in the lurch. If she was ill that was a different matter. After a pause he went and knocked at the door, and asked how Miss Diarmid was?

‘If you’re meaning Isabel, she’s no that weel,’ said Jenny Spence; ‘she was out yesterday in the damp, and she’s gotten a cauld.’ This was all the information she would condescend upon to a stranger and a ‘young lad.’

‘But what did I hear you say about a faint?’ said Stapylton eagerly.

‘Lord!’ said Jenny, who, like most of the villagers, disliked the Englishman, ‘how can I tell what ye might hear me say? I say plenty whiles that I canna mind myself; but Isabel’s gotten the cauld. It’s natural at this time of the year.’

‘Cold? and nothing more?’ asked the young man.

‘Ane can never tell—it might turn into an influenza,’ said Jenny; ‘but that’s a’ the noo, for a’ that I can see.’

And then she closed the door upon him, with a certain malicious satisfaction. Stapylton was no favourite in the parish; perhaps because of a sneer which was always lurking behind the few civilities which he had ever been known to offer. Jenny had no confidence either in his friendship or his love.

‘Yon’s the lad that would beguile a young lass, but be dour as iron and steel to his wife as soon as she had{122} married him. I hope there’s naething amiss between him and Isabel,’ she said to Jean, when she described this visit; and Jean felt a little thrill go through her, as if this new event threw light on something, though she could scarcely tell what.

‘Do you think our Isabel would be thinking of any such nonsense at such a time!’ she said, indignantly. But still a sensation as of some discovery darted through her own heart.

Stapylton, however, shut out as he thus was from all approach to Isabel, was not to be so easily put off. He hastened down the road at his quickest pace, determined to find out, at least, from the minister what had happened. Mr. Lothian was standing at the door of the doctor’s house when the young man made up to him.

‘Is it you, Stapylton?’ he said, with an evident struggle to be friendly. ‘It has been a dreadful day.’

‘Not cheerful,’ said the young man; ‘but only, after all, “a wee saft,” as you say in these parts. You have not been consulting the doctor, I hope, for yourself?’

‘No,’ said Mr. Lothian, fixing his eyes upon his interrogator, and adding nothing to the syllable. Stapylton’s spirit of natural rivalry woke up at once.

‘I saw a messenger for the doctor coming from the Glebe,’ he said. ‘I hope I might be mistaken—or if there is anyone ill there, that it is only one of the children. Children are always ill.’

‘It is not one of the children,’ said Mr. Lothian. ‘It is—Isabel.’ He uttered the name with a sigh. He was so anxious, that he was glad to speak, even to Stapylton, of the subject that lay nearest his heart.

‘What is the matter?’ said the young man, himself feeling somewhat breathless.

‘She fainted to-day,’ said the minister, ‘without any reason, so far as we know. She had been out yesterday, at her sister’s grave, and I fear she caught cold; but a fainting fit shows a state of weakness which—I cannot but be alarmed at it,’ he added, hurriedly, with a faltering voice.

‘So she said she had been at her sister’s grave!’—Stapylton thought within himself. He liked her all the better for having lied to keep their meeting secret. He had not thought she had so much spirit. And after all it would have been a wretched day for a journey. To-morrow would still leave time enough. He must send her a note somehow, to say so; and, well or ill, she must pluck up her forces and do it at last. He looked at the glass as he went to his room, and found that it was rising; and already it had ceased to rain. Dry clothes and a fine day would make all the difference. And{123} Isabel, who could no longer assume any superiority over him—who had been as sly about it as any ordinary girl—would have given herself to him by that time, and be altogether in his power. The young man whistled in sheer lightheartedness as he changed his dress. After this she could never mount her high horse, and show her superior sentiments, as of yore. The first thing he did when his toilet was accomplished was to write her a note. It was the first communication of the kind which had ever passed between them, but the fact did not excite him as it does most young lovers. Poor Mr. Lothian, on the eminence of his fifty years, would have written to Isabel with very different feelings; but Stapylton took it calmly, not being of an imaginative turn. His letter was as follows:—

‘Dearest Isabel,—I was in an awful state of mind when I found you did not turn up to-day at the usual spot. I felt furious I can assure you, and called you a jilt and a dozen other names. But I hear you’ve been ill, and I forgive you, my darling. Of course it never would have answered to set out in the rain on such a frightful day if you were ill. I got soaked to the skin waiting for you, which I hope you will be sorry to hear. But, Isabel, remember to-morrow is the last day. Go I must to-morrow. If you can’t pick yourself up and get well, and join me at the same place and the same hour, I shall go mad, I think, for I must go. My people are writing letters upon letters. There’s one waiting for me now, but I have not opened it, for they’re all pretty much the same thing over again. They’ve written to Mr. Lothian, and to Smeaton at the farm, for information as to what detains me; and I must not risk it any longer. But of course, when you know it’s so necessary, I can trust to your spirit to get well, and join me as I arranged. We’ll have a run into Edinburgh and do the business, and then I can write home. I don’t care much about seeing sights myself, but it will all be new to you, and you’ll enjoy it. So get well, my pet, as fast as ever you can, and remember to-morrow at the old place at two o’clock. I’ll have a trap waiting on the hill: but for Heaven’s sake don’t be late.

‘You may think me joking, but I never was more serious in my life. That is my way, as you know. I can’t look solemn and use big words like you Scotch. But I mean it all the same. If you don’t love me enough to come to me to-morrow, I’ll take it for granted you don’t love me at all. I will go right away by myself, and I can’t hold out any hope to you that I will ever come back. Now don’t mistake me, or think I am{124} threatening you. I have waited long enough, and you must not make a fool of me any longer. If I am once driven away, the chances are I can never return to Loch Diarmid—or to you. Come then now. It is our only chance. I will wait for you to-morrow as I did to-day. I shall be there at half-past one, and I shall wait till a quarter after two. No longer. You must be punctual. It’s for you to decide if we are to be together for ever, or separated for ever. I can do no more. To-morrow at the old place, or most likely never in this world.

‘Come, Isabel, my darling, come! Don’t fail me. If you do, I will never see you more.

‘Yours, if you will have me,
‘H. S.’

When he had finished this epistle he read it over with a little complacency. If anything would do it, surely this would do it; though, indeed, there was no reason to believe that Isabel required any special entreaty. As he thought it over, it occurred to him that probably she had fainted out of sheer aggravation and passion when she found she could not go to him; and that was easily comprehensible. When he had folded his note, and got up to find some wax to seal it (for envelopes were not common articles in those days), he found the letters Mr. Lothian had told him of on the table, and tore the first that came uppermost open, suddenly, holding still his love-letter in his hand. His face grew heavy as he read, and pale. He went back to his chair and hurried through it, and the other which accompanied it. They were written on the same day, and to the same purpose. His father was ill. One of the letters was from his sister, the other from the doctor.

‘Come for mamma’s sake,’ wrote the first. ‘Papa is fearfully angry, and threatens to change his will. For your own sake don’t waste a moment.’

‘Your father is dying,’ said the doctor. ‘There is not a moment to lose. He is clamouring for a lawyer. Everything that I can do to postpone this you may be sure I will. But come! you may yet be in time.’

Young Stapylton wiped the heavy moisture from his forehead and stared into the air as if he had been staring at himself. ‘Clamouring for a lawyer!’—‘threatening to change his will!’ Horace was not a devoted son, but such words as these penetrate the most callous heart. After the first shock he set himself to consider with a promptitude that did him credit. There was not a moment to lose. After all, it was just as well he had packed his bag. He would borrow the miller’s horse and the minister’s old gig, and there was still time{125} perhaps to get to Glasgow before the English mail should be gone. But there was not a moment to lose. It was only when he sprang up to prepare for immediate departure that he found the note to Isabel crushed in his hand, and bethought himself of her. He sat down again hastily and added a few words to it: and he was in the act of sealing it at Mr. Lothian’s writing-table when the minister came in. Even then a spark of malice crossed his mind. Here was the best messenger he could find to carry his love-letter—and it would be a Parthian arrow, a farewell blow at his adversary.

‘My father is ill,’ he said; ‘I must go instantly. There is just time to catch the coach for Glasgow if Andrew White will lend me his mare. I am going to ask him now.’

‘Going—instantly?’ said the minister, stupified, looking at the two letters on the table. Stapylton gathered them carefully up and nodded in reply.

‘I shall see you again,’ he said. ‘I must rush up now to the mill. I may have the gig, I suppose? But look here,’ he continued, coming back from the door. ‘There’s one good turn you can do me, if you will. If not I’ll send it by someone else; will you take this note for me to the Glebe when you go?’

The minister started slightly and coloured high, but he made a little ceremonious bow at the same time and held out his hand. ‘I will take it,’ he said gravely; and then, perhaps out of the softening of his heart towards the young fellow, who was thus torn away at such a moment, leaving him master of the field—for to be left master of the field is very softening and consolatory to the soul—he laid his hand upon Stapylton’s arm. ‘The doctors says it is but grief and agitation—you’ll be glad to hear it,’ he said.

‘Yes, yes,’ cried Stapylton, scarcely taking in the words; ‘and I may have the gig? There is not a moment to lose.’


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