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Chapter 30


In the small hours of the following night the pulse of Thrums stopped
for a moment, and then went on again, but the only watcher remained
silent, and the people rose in the morning without knowing that they had
lost one of their number while they slept. In the same ignorance they
toiled through a long day.

It was a close October day in the end of a summer that had lingered to
give the countryside nothing better than a second crop of haws. Beneath
the beeches leaves lay in yellow heaps like sliced turnip, and over all
the strath was a pink haze; the fields were singed brown, except where a
recent ploughing gave them a mourning border. From early morn men, women
and children (Tommy among them) were in the fields taking up their
potatoes, half-a-dozen gatherers at first to every drill, and by noon it
seemed a dozen, though the new-comers were but stout sacks, now able to
stand alone. By and by heavy-laden carts were trailing into Thrums,
dog-tired toilers hanging on behind, not to be dragged, but for an
incentive to keep them trudging, boys and girls falling asleep on top
of the load, and so neglecting to enjoy the ride which was their
recompense for lifting. A growing mist mixed with the daylight, and
still there were a few people out, falling over their feet with fatigue;
it took silent possession, and then the shadowy forms left in the fields
were motionless and would remain there until carted to garrets and
kitchen corners and other winter quarters on Monday morning. There were
few gad-abouts that Saturday night. Washings were not brought in, though
Mr. Dishart had preached against the unseemly sight of linen hanging on
the line on the Sabbath-day. Innes, stravaiging the square and wynds in
his apple-cart, jingled his weights in vain, unable to shake even
moneyed children off their stools, and when at last he told his beast to
go home they took with them all the stir of the town. Family exercise
came on early in many houses, and as the gude wife handed her man the
Bible she said entreatingly, "A short ane." After that one might have
said that no earthly knock could bring them to their doors, yet within
an hour the town was in a ferment.

When Tommy and Elspeth reached the Den the mist lay so thick that they
had to feel their way through it to the _Ailie_, where they found
Gavinia alone and scared. "Was you peeping in, trying to fleg me twa
three minutes syne?" she asked, eagerly, and when they shook their
heads, she looked cold with fear.

"As sure as death," she said, "there was some living thing standing
there; I couldna see it for the rime, but I heard it breathing hard."

Tommy felt Elspeth's hand begin to tremble, and he said "McLean!"
hastily, though he knew that McLean had not yet left the Quharity Arms.
Next moment Corp arrived with another story as unnerving.

"Has Grizel no come yet?" he asked, in a troubled voice. "Tommy, hearken
to this, a light has been burning in Double Dykes and the door swinging
open a' day! I saw it mysel', and so did Willum Dods."

"Did you go close?"

"Na faags! Willum was hol'ing and I was lifting, so we hadna time in the
daylight, and wha would venture near the Painted Lady's house on sic a

Even Tommy felt uneasy, but when Gavinia cried, "There's something
uncanny in being out the night; tell us what was in Mr. McLean's bottle,
Tommy, and syne we'll run hame," he became Commander Sandys again, and
replied, blankly, "What bottle?"

"The ane I warned you he was to fling into the water; dinna dare tell me
you hinna got it."

"I know not what thou art speaking about," said Tommy; "but it's a queer
thing, it's a queer thing, Gavinia"--here he fixed her with his
terrifying eye--"I happen to have found a--another bottle," and still
glaring at her he explained that he had found his bottle floating on
the horizon. It contained a letter to him, which he now read aloud. It
was signed "The Villain Stroke, his mark," and announced that the
writer, "tired of this relentless persecution," had determined to reform
rather than be killed. "Meet me at the Cuttle Well, on Saturday, when
the eight-o'clock bell is ringing," he wrote, "and I shall there make
you an offer for my freedom."

The crew received this communication with shouts, Gavinia's cry of "Five
shillings, if no ten!" expressing the general sentiment, but it would
not have been like Tommy to think with them. "You poor things," he said,
"you just believe everything you're telled! How do I know that this is
not a trick of Stroke's to bring me here when he is some other gait
working mischief?"

Corp was impressed, but Gavinia said, short-sightedly, "There's no sign

"There's ower much sign o't," retorted Tommy. "What's this story about
Double Dykes? And how do we ken that there hasna been foul work there,
and this man at the bottom o't? I tell you, before the world's half an
hour older, I'll find out," and he looked significantly at Corp, who
answered, quaking, "I winna gang by mysel', no, Tommy, I winna!"

So Tommy had to accompany him, saying, valiantly, "I'm no feared, and
this rime is fine for hodding in," to which Corp replied, as firmly,
"Neither am I, and we can aye keep touching cauld iron." Before they
were half way down the Double Dykes they got a thrill, for they
realized, simultaneously, that they were being followed. They stopped
and gripped each other hard, but now they could hear nothing.

"The Painted Lady!" Corp whispered.

"Stroke!" Tommy replied, as cautiously. He was excited rather than
afraid, and had the pluck to cry, "Wha's that? I see you!"--but no
answer came back through the mist, and now the boys had a double reason
for pressing forward.

"Can you see the house, Corp?"

"It should be here about, but it's smored in rime."

"I'm touching the paling. I ken the road to the window now."

"Hark! What's that?"

It sounded like devil's music in front of them, and they fell back until
Corp remembered, "It maun be the door swinging open, and squealing and
moaning on its hinges. Tommy, I take ill wi' that. What can it mean?"

"I'm here to find out." They reached the window where Tommy had watched
once before, and looking in together saw the room plainly by the light
of a lamp which stood on the spinet. There was no one inside, but
otherwise Tommy noticed little change. The fire was out, having
evidently burned itself done, the bed-clothes were in some disorder. To
avoid the creaking door, the boys passed round the back of the house to
the window of the other room. This room was without a light, but its
door stood open and sufficient light came from the kitchen to show that
it also was untenanted. It seemed to have been used as a lumber-room.

The boys turned to go, passing near the front of the empty house, where
they shivered and stopped, mastered by a feeling they could not have
explained. The helpless door, like the staring eyes of a dead person,
seemed to be calling to them to shut it, and Tommy was about to steal
forward for this purpose when Corp gripped him and whispered that the
light had gone out. It was true, though Tommy disbelieved until they had
returned to the east window to make sure.

"There maun be folk in the hoose, Tommy!"

"You saw it was toom. The lamp had gone out itself, or else--what's

It was the unmistakable closing of a door, softly but firmly. "The wind
has blown it to," they tried to persuade themselves, though aware that
there was not sufficient wind for this. After a long period of stillness
they gathered courage to go to the door and shake it. It was not only
shut, but locked.

On their way back through the Double Dykes they were silent, listening
painfully but hearing nothing. But when they reached the Coffin Brig
Tommy said, "Dinna say nothing about this to Elspeth, it would terrify
her;" he was always so thoughtful for Elspeth.

"But what do you think o't a'?" Corp said, imploringly.

"I winna tell you yet," replied Tommy, cautiously.

When they boarded the _Ailie_, where the two girls were very glad to see
them again, the eight-o'clock bell had begun to ring, and thus Tommy had
a reasonable excuse for hurrying his crew to the Cuttle Well without
saying anything of his expedition to Double Dykes, save that he had not
seen Grizel. At the Well they had not long to wait before Mr. McLean
suddenly appeared out of the mist, and to their astonishment Miss Ailie
was leaning on his arm. She was blushing and smiling too, in a way
pretty to see, though it spoilt the effect of Stroke's statement.

The first thing Stroke did was to give up his sword to Tommy and to
apologize for its being an umbrella on account of the unsettled state of
the weather, and then Corp led three cheers, the captain alone declining
to join in, for he had an uneasy feeling that he was being ridiculed.

"But I thought there were five of you," Mr. McLean said; "where is the

"You ken best," replied Tommy, sulkily, and sulky he remained throughout
the scene, because he knew he was not the chief figure in it. Having
this knowledge to depress him, it is to his credit that he bore himself
with dignity throughout, keeping his crew so well in hand that they
dared not give expression to their natural emotions.

"As you are aware, Mr. Sandys," McLean began solemnly, "I have come
here to sue for pardon. It is not yours to give, you reply, the Queen
alone can pardon, and I grant it; but, sir, is it not well known to all
of us that you can get anything out of her you like?"

Tommy's eyes roved suspiciously, but the suppliant proceeded in the same
tone. "What are my offences? The first is that I have been bearing arms
(unwittingly) against the Throne; the second, that I have brought
trouble to the lady by my side, who has the proud privilege of calling
you her friend. But, Sandys, such amends as can come from an erring man
I now offer to make most contritely. Intercede with Her Majesty on my
behalf, and on my part I promise to war against her no more. I am
willing to settle down in the neighboring town as a law-abiding citizen,
whom you can watch with eagle eye. Say, what more wouldst thou of the
unhappy Stuart?"

But Tommy would say nothing, he only looked doubtfully at Miss Ailie,
and that set McLean off again. "You ask what reparation I shall make to
this lady? Sandys, I tell thee that here also thou hast proved too
strong for me. In the hope that she would plead for me with you, I have
been driven to offer her my hand in marriage, and she is willing to take
me if thou grantest thy consent."

At this Gavinia jumped with joy, and then cried, "Up wi' her!" words
whose bearing the school-mistress fortunately did not understand. All
save Tommy looked at Miss Ailie, and she put her arm on Mr. McLean's,
and, yes, it was obvious, Miss Ailie was a lover at the Cuttle Well at
last, like so many others. She had often said that the Den parade was
vulgar, but she never said it again.

It was unexpected news to Tommy, but that was not what lowered his head
in humiliation now. In the general rejoicing he had been nigh forgotten;
even Elspeth was hanging on Miss Ailie's skirts, Gavinia had eyes for
none but lovers, Corp was rapturously examining five half-crowns that
had been dropped into his hands for distribution. Had Tommy given an
order now, who would have obeyed it? His power was gone, his crew would
not listen to another word against Mr. McLean.

"Tommy thought Mr. McLean hated you!" said Elspeth to Miss Ailie.

"It was queer you made sic a mistake!" said Corp to Tommy.

"Oh, the tattie-doolie!" cried Gavinia.

So they knew that Mr. McLean had only been speaking sarcastically; of a
sudden they saw through and despised their captain. Tears of
mortification rose in Tommy's eyes, and kind-hearted Miss Ailie saw
them, and she thought it was her lover's irony that made him smart. She
had said little hitherto, but now she put her hand on his shoulder, and
told them all that she did indeed owe the supreme joy that had come to
her to him. "No, Gavinia," she said, blushing, "I will not give you the
particulars, but I assure you that had it not been for Tommy, Mr. McLean
would never have asked me to marry him."

Elspeth crossed proudly to the side of her noble brother (who could
scarcely trust his ears), and Gavinia cried, in wonder, "What did he

Now McLean had seen Tommy's tears also, and being a kindly man he
dropped the satirist and chimed in warmly, "And if I had not asked Miss
Ailie to marry me I should have lost the great happiness of my life, so
you may all imagine how beholden I feel to Tommy."

Again Tommy was the centre-piece, and though these words were as
puzzling to him as to his crew, their sincerity was unmistakable, and
once more his head began to waggle complacently.

"And to show how grateful we are," said Miss Ailie, "we are to give him
a--a sort of marriage present. We are to double the value of the bursary
he wins at the university--" She could get no farther, for now Elspeth
was hugging her, and Corp cheering frantically, and Mr. McLean thought
it necessary to add the warning, "If he does carry a bursary, you
understand, for should he fail I give him nothing."

"Him fail!" exclaimed Corp, with whom Miss Ailie of course agreed. "And
he can spend the money in whatever way he chooses," she said, "what will
you do with it, Tommy?"

The lucky boy answered, instantly, "I'll take Elspeth to Aberdeen to
bide with me," and then Elspeth hugged him, and Miss Ailie said, in a
delighted aside to Mr. McLean, "I told you so," and he, too, was well

"It was the one thing needed to make him work," the school-mistress
whispered. "Is not his love for his sister beautiful?"

McLean admitted that it was, but half-banteringly he said to Elspeth:
"What could you do in lodgings, you excited mite?"

"I can sit and look at Tommy," she answered, quickly.

"But he will be away for hours at his classes."

"I'll sit at the window waiting for him," said she.

"And I'll run back quick," said Tommy.

All this time another problem had been bewildering Gavinia, and now she
broke in, eagerly: "But what was it he did? I thought he was agin Mr.

"And so did I," said Corp.

"I cheated you grandly," replied Tommy with the audacity he found so

"And a' the time you was pretending to be agin him," screamed Gavinia,
"was you--was you bringing this about on the sly?"

Tommy looked up into Mr. McLean's face, but could get no guidance from
it, so he said nothing; he only held his head higher than ever. "Oh, the
clever little curse!" cried Corp, and Elspeth's delight was as ecstatic,
though differently worded. Yet Gavinia stuck to her problem, "How did
you do it, what was it you did?" and the cruel McLean said: "You may
tell her, Tommy; you have my permission."

It would have been an awkward position for most boys, and even
Tommy--but next moment he said, quite coolly: "I think you and me and
Miss Ailie should keep it to oursels, Gavinia's sic a gossip."

"Oh, how thoughtful of him!" cried Miss Ailie, the deceived, and McLean
said: "How very thoughtful!" but now he saw in a flash why Mr. Cathro
still had hopes that Tommy might carry a bursary.

Thus was the repentant McLean pardoned, and nothing remained for him to
do save to show the crew his Lair, which they had sworn to destroy. He
had behaved so splendidly that they had forgotten almost that they were
the emissaries of justice, but not to destroy the Lair seemed a pity, it
would be such a striking way of bringing their adventures in the Den to
a close. The degenerate Stuart read this feeling in their faces, and he
was ready, he said, to show them his Lair if they would first point it
out to him; but here was a difficulty, for how could they do that? For a
moment it seemed as if the negotiations must fall through; but Sandys,
that captain of resource, invited McLean to step aside for a private
conference, and when they rejoined the others McLean said, gravely, that
he now remembered where the Lair was and would guide them to it.

They had only to cross a plank, invisible in the mist until they were
close to it, and climb a slippery bank strewn with fallen trees. McLean,
with a mock serious air, led the way, Miss Ailie on his arm. Corp and
Gavinia followed, weighted and hampered by their new half-crowns, and
Tommy and Elspeth, in the rear, whispered joyously of the coming life.
And so, very unprepared for it, they moved toward the tragedy of the

James M. Barrie