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Once more the golden light of a sunny spring day was shining on the sapphire loch at the bottom, and overflowing at the rim of the Cuagh Oir. But for all its flowing gold, there was grief in the Glen--grief deep and silent, like the quiet waters of the little loch. It was seen in the grave faces of the men who gathered at the "smiddy." It was heard in the cadence of the voices of the women as they gathered to "kalie" (Ceilidh) in the little cottages that fringed the loch's side, or dotted the heather-clad slopes. It even checked the boisterous play of the bairns as they came in from school. It lay like a cloud on the Cuagh, and heavy on the hearts that made up the little hill-girt community of one hundred souls, or more.
And the grief was this, that on the "morrow's morn" Mary Robertson's son was departing from the Glen "neffer to return for effermore," as Donald of the House farm put it, with a face gloomy as the loch on a dark winter's day.
"A leaving" was ever an occasion of wailing to the Glen, and many a leaving had the Glen known during the last fifty years. For wherever the tartan waved, and the bonnie feathers danced for the glory of the Empire, sons of the Glen were ever to be found; but not for fifty years had the heart of the Glen known the luxury of a single rallying centre for their pride and their love till the "young chentleman," young Mr. Allan, began to go in and out among them. And as he grew into manhood so grew their pride in him. And as, from time to time, at the Great Games he began to win glory for the Glen with his feats of skill and strength, and upon the pipes, and in the dances, their pride in him grew until it passed all limits. Had he not, the very year before he went to the college, cut the comb of the "Cock of the North" from Glen Urquhart, in running and jumping; and the very same year had he not wrested from Callum Bheg, the pride of Athole, the coveted badge of Special Distinction in Highland Dancing? Then later, when the schoolmaster would read from the Inverness Courier to one group after another at the post office and at the "smiddy" (it was only fear of the elder MacPherson, that kept the master from reading it aloud at the kirk door before the service) accounts of the "remarkable playing" of Cameron, the brilliant young "half-back" of the Academy in Edinburgh, the Glen settled down into an assured conviction that it had reached the pinnacle of vicarious glory, and that in all Scotland there was none to compare with their young "chieftain" as, quite ignoring the Captain, they loved to call him.
And there was more than pride in him, for on his holidays he came back to the Glen unspoiled by all his honours and achievements, and went about among them "jist like ain o' their ain sels," accepting their homage as his right, but giving them in return, according to their various stations, due respect and honour, and their love grew greater than their pride.
But the "morrow's morn" he was leaving the Glen, and, worse than all, no one knew for why. A mystery hung over the cause of his going, a mystery deepened by his own bearing during the past twelve months, for all these months a heavy gloom had shrouded him, and from all that had once been his delight and their glory he had withdrawn. The challenge, indeed, from the men of Glen Urquhart which he had accepted long ago, he refused not, but even the overwhelming defeat which he had administered to his haughty challengers, had apparently brought him no more than a passing gleam of joy. The gloom remained unlifted and the cause the Glen knew not, and no man of them would seek to know. Hence the grief of the Glen was no common grief when the son of Mary Robertson, the son of the House, the pride of the Glen, and the comrade and friend of them all, was about to depart and never to return.
His last day in the Glen Allan spent making his painful way through the cottages, leaving his farewell, and with each some slight gift of remembrance. It was for him, indeed, a pilgrimage of woe. It was not only that his heart roots were in the Glen and knit round every stick and stone of it; it was not that he felt he was leaving behind him a love and loyalty as deep and lasting as life itself. It was that in tearing himself from them he could make no response to the dumb appeal in the eyes that followed him with adoration and fidelity: "Wherefore do you leave us at all?" and "Why do you make no promise of return?" To that dumb appeal there was no answer possible from one who carried on his heart for himself, and on his life for some few others, and among these his own father, the terrible brand of the criminal. It was this grim fact that stained black the whole landscape of his consciousness, and that hung like a pall of death over every living and delightsome thing in the garden of his soul. While none could, without challenge, condemn him, yet his own tongue refused to proclaim his innocence. Every face he loved drove deeper into his heart his pain. The deathless loyalty and unbounded pride of the Glen folk rebuked him, without their knowing, for the dishonour he had done them. The Glen itself, the hills, the purpling heather, the gleaming loch, how dear to him he had never known till now, threw in his face a sad and silent reproach. Small wonder that the Glen, that Scotland had become intolerable to him. With this bitter burden on his heart it was that young Mr. Allan went his way through the Glen making his farewells, not daring to indulge the luxury of his grief, and with never a word of return.
His sister, who knew all, and who would have carried--oh! how gladly!--on her own heart, and for all her life long, that bitter burden, pleaded to be allowed to go with him on what she knew full well was a journey of sorrow and sore pain, but this he would not permit. This sorrow and pain which were his own, he would share with no one, and least of all with her upon whose life he had already cast so dark a shadow. Hence she was at the house alone, her father not having yet returned from an important meeting at a neighbouring village, when a young man came to the door asking for young Mr. Cameron.
"Who is it, Kirsty?" she inquired anxiously, a new fear at her heart for her brother.
"I know not, but he has neffer been in this Glen before whateffer," replied Kirsty, with an ominous shake of the head, her primitive instincts leading her to view the stranger with suspicion. "But!" she added, with a glance at her young mistress' face, "he iss no man to be afraid of, at any rate. He is just a laddie."
"Oh, he is a young man, Kirsty?" replied her mistress, glancing at her blue serge gown, her second best, and with her hands striving to tuck in some of her wayward curls.
"Och, yess, and not much at that!" replied Kirsty, with the idea of relieving her young mistress of unnecessary fears.
Then Moira, putting on her grand air, stepped into the parlour, and saw standing there and awaiting her, a young man with a thin and somewhat hard face, a firm mouth, and extraordinarily keen, grey eyes. Upon her appearing the young man stood looking upon her without a word. As a matter of fact, he was struggling with a problem; a problem that was quite bewildering; the problem, namely, "How could hair ever manage to get itself into such an arrangement of waves and curls, and golden gleams and twinkles?" Struggling with this problem, he became conscious of her voice gravely questioning him. "You were wishing to see my brother?" The young man came back part way, and replied, "Oh! how does it--? That is--. I beg your pardon." The surprise in her face brought him quite to the ground, and he came at once to his business. "I am Mr. Martin," he said in a quick, sharp voice. "I know your brother and Mr. Dunn." He noted a light dawn in her eyes. "In fact, I played with them on the same team--at football, you know."
"Oh!" cried the girl, relief and welcome in her voice, "I know you, Mr. Martin, quite well. I know all about you, and what a splendid quarter-back you are." Here she gave him both her hands, which Mr. Martin took in a kind of dream, once more plunged into the mazes of another and more perplexing problem, viz., Was it her lips with that delicious curve to them? or her eyes so sunny and brown (or were they brown?) with that alluring, bewitching twinkle? or was it both lips and eyes that gave to the smile with which she welcomed him its subtle power to make his heart rise and choke him as it never had been known to do in the most strenuous of his matches? "I'm awfully glad," he heard himself say, and her voice replying, "Oh, yes! Allan has often and often spoken of you, Mr. Martin." Mr. Martin immediately became conscious of a profound and grateful affection to Allan, still struggling, however, with the problem which had been complicated still further by the charm of her soft, Highland voice. He was on the point of deciding in favour of her voice, when on her face he noted a swift change from glad welcome to suspicion and fear, and then into her sunny eyes a sudden leaping of fierce wrath, as in those of a lioness defending her young.
"Why do you look so?" she cried in a voice sharp and imperious. "Is it my brother--? Is anything wrong?"
The shock of the change in eyes and voice brought Martin quite to himself.
"Wrong? Not a bit," he hastened to say, "but just the finest thing in the world. It is all here in this letter. Dunn could not come himself, and there was no one else, and he thought Cameron ought to have it to-day, so here I am, and here is the letter. Where is he?"
"Oh!" cried the girl, clasping her hands upon her heart, her voice growing soft, and her eyes dim with a sudden mist. "I am so thankful! I am so glad!" The change in her voice and in her eyes so affected Mr. Martin that he put his hands resolutely behind his back lest they should play him tricks, and should, without his will, get themselves round her and draw her close to his heart.
"So am I," he said, "awfully glad! Never was so glad in all my life!" He was more conscious than ever of bewilderment and perplexity in the midst of increasing problems that complicated themselves with mist brown eyes, trembling lips, and a voice of such pathetic cadences as aroused in him an almost uncontrollable desire to exercise his utmost powers of comfort. And all the while there was growing in his heart a desperate anxiety as to what would be the final issue of these bewildering desires and perplexities; when at the extremity of his self-control he was saved by the girl's suggestion.
"Let us go and find my brother."
"Oh, yes!" cried Martin, "for heaven's sake let us."
"Wait until I get my hat."
"Oh! I wouldn't put on a hat," cried he in dismay.
"Why?" enquired the girl, looking at him with surprised curiosity.
"Oh! because--because you don't need one; it's so beautiful and sunny, you know." In spite of what he could do Mr. Martin's eyes kept wandering to her hair.
"Oh, well!" cried Moira, in increasing surprise at this strange young man, "the sun won't hurt me, so come, let us go."
Together they went down the avenue of rugged firs. At the highway she paused. Before them lay the Glen in all the splendid sweep of its beauty.
"Isn't it lovely!" she breathed.
"Lovely!" echoed Martin, his eyes not on the Glen. "It is so sunny, you know."
"Yes," she answered quickly, "you notice that?"
"How could I help it?" said Martin, his eyes still resting upon her. "How could I?"
"Of course," she replied, "and so we call it the Glen Cuagh Oir, that is the 'Glen of the Cup of Gold.' And to think he has to leave it all to-morrow!" she added.
The pathetic cadences in her voice again drove Martin to despair. He recovered himself, however, to say, "But he is going to Canada!"
"Yes, to Canada. And we all feel it so dreadfully for him, and," she added in a lower voice, "for ourselves."
Had it been yesterday Martin would have been ready with scorn for any such feeling, and with congratulations to Cameron upon his exceptionally good luck in the expectation of going to Canada; but to-day, somehow it was different. He found the splendid lure of his native land availed not to break the spell of the Glen, and as he followed the girl in and out of the little cottages, seeking her brother, and as he noted the perfect courtesy and respect which marked her manner with the people, and their unstudied and respectful devotion to their "tear young leddy," this spell deepened upon him. Unconsciously and dimly he became aware of a mysterious and mighty power somehow and somewhere in the Glen straining at the heart-strings of its children. Of the nature and origin of this mysterious and mighty power, the young Canadian knew little. His country was of too recent an origin for mystery, and its people too heterogeneous in their ethnic characteristics to furnish a soil for tribal instincts and passions. The passionate loves and hatreds of the clans, their pride of race, their deathless lealty; and more than all, and better than all, their religious instincts, faiths and prejudices; these, with the mystic, wild loveliness of heather-clad hill and rock-rimmed loch, of roaring torrent and jagged crags, of lonely muir and sunny pasture nuiks; all these, and ten thousand nameless and unnamable things united in the weaving of the spell of the Glen upon the hearts of its people. Of how it all came to be, Martin knew nothing, but like an atmosphere it stole in upon him, and he came to vaguely understand something of what it meant to be a Highlander, and to bid farewell to the land into whose grim soil his life roots had struck deep, and to tear himself from hearts whose life stream and his had flowed as one for a score of generations. So from cot to cot Martin followed and observed, until they came to the crossing where the broad path led up from the highroad to the kirkyard and the kirk. Here they were halted by a young man somewhat older than Martin. Tall and gaunt he stood. His face, pale and pock-marked and lit by light blue eyes, and crowned by brilliant red hair, was, with all its unloveliness, a face of a certain rugged beauty; while his manner and bearing showed the native courtesy of a Highland gentleman.
"You are seeking Mr. Allan?" he said, taking off his bonnet to the girl. "He is in yonder," waving his hand towards the kirkyard.
"In yonder? You are sure, Mr. Maclise?" She might well ask, for never but on Sabbath days, since the day they had laid his mother away under the birch trees, had Allan put foot inside the kirkyard.
"Half an hour ago he went in," replied the young Highlander, "and he has not returned."
"I will go in, then," said the girl, and hesitated, unwilling that a stranger's eyes should witness what she knew was waiting her there.
"You, Sir, will perhaps abide with me," suggested Mr. Maclise to Martin, with a quick understanding of her hesitation.
"Oh, thank you," cried Moira. "This is Mr. Martin from Canada, Mr. Maclise--my brother's great friend. Mr. Maclise is our schoolmaster here," she added, turning to Martin, "and we are very proud of him." The Highlander's pale face became the colour of his brilliant hair as he remarked, "You are very good indeed, Miss Cameron, and I am glad to make the acquaintance of Mr. Martin. It will give me great pleasure to show Mr. Martin the little falls at the loch's end, if he cares to step that far." If Mr. Martin was conscious of any great desire to view the little falls at the loch's end, his face most successfully dissembled any such feeling, but to the little falls he must go as the schoolmaster quietly possessed himself of him and led him away, while Miss Cameron, with never a thought of either of them, passed up the broad path into the kirkyard. There, at the tower's foot, she came upon her brother, prone upon the little grassy mound, with arms outspread, as if to hold it in embrace. At the sound of his sister's tread upon the gravel, he raised himself to his knees swiftly, and with a fierce gesture, as if resenting intrusion.
"Oh, it is you, Moira," he said quietly, sinking down upon the grass. At the sight of his tear-stained, haggard face, the girl ran to him with a cry, and throwing herself down beside him put her arms about him with inarticulate sounds of pity. At length her brother raised himself from the ground.
"Oh, it is terrible to leave it all," he groaned; "yet I am glad to leave, for it is more terrible to stay; the very Glen I cannot look at; and the people, I cannot bear their eyes. Oh," he groaned, wringing his hands, "if she were here she would understand, but there is nobody."
"Oh, Allan," cried his sister in reproach.
"Oh, yes, I know! I know! You believe in me, Moira, but you are just a lassie, and you cannot understand."
"Yes, you know well I believe in you, Allan, and others, too, believe in you. There is Mr. Dunn, and--"
"Oh, I don't know," said her brother bitterly, "he wants to believe it."
"Yes, and there is Mr. Martin," she continued, "and--Oh, I forgot! here is a letter Mr. Martin brought you."
"Yes, your Martin, a strange little man; your quarter-back, you know. He brought this, and he says it is good news." But already Allan was into his letter. As he read his face grew white, his hand began to shake, his eyes to stare as if they would devour the very paper. The second time he read the letter his whole body trembled, and his breath came in gasps, as if he were in a physical struggle. Then lifting arms and voice towards the sky, he cried in a long, low wail, "Oh God, it is good, it is good!"
With that he laid himself down prone upon the mound again, his face in the grass, sobbing brokenly, "Oh, mother, mother dear, I have got you once more; I have got you once more!"
His sister stood, her hands clasped upon her heart--a manner she had--her tears, unnoted, flowing down her cheeks, waiting till her brother should let her into his joy, as she had waited for entrance into his grief. His griefs and his joys were hers, and though he still held her a mere child, it was with a woman's self-forgetting love she ministered to him, gladly accepting whatever confidence he would give, but content to wait until he should give more. So she stood waiting, with her tears flowing quietly, and her face alight with wonder and joy for him. But as her brother's sobbing continued, this terrible display of emotion amazed her, startled her, for since their mother's death none of them had seen Allan weep. At length he raised himself from the ground and stood beside her.
"Oh, Moira, lassie, I never knew how terrible it was till now. I had lost everything, my friends, you, and," he added in a low voice, "my mother. This cursed thing shut me out from all; it got between me and all I ever loved. I have not for these months been able to see her face clear, but do you know, Moira," here his voice fell and the mystic light grew in his eyes, "I saw her again just now as clear as clear, and I know I have got her again; and you, too, Moira, darling," here he gathered his sister to him, "and the people! and the Glen! Oh! is it not terrible what a crime can do? How it separates you from your folk, and from all the world, for, mind you, I have felt myself a criminal; but I am not! I am not!" His voice rose into an exultant shout, "I am clear of it, I am a man again! Oh, it is good! it is good! Here, read the letter, it will prove to you."
"Oh, what does it matter at all, Allan," she cried, still clinging to him, "as if it made any difference to me. I always knew it."
Her brother lifted her face from his breast and looked into her eyes. "Do you tell me you don't want to know the proof of it?" he asked in wonder. "No," she said simply. "Why should I need any proof? I always knew it."
For a moment longer he gazed upon her, then said, "Moira, you are a wonder, lassie. No, you are a lassie no longer, you are a woman, and, do you know, you are like mother to me now, and I never saw it."
She smiled up at him through her tears. "I should like to be," she said softly. Then, because she was truly Scotch, she added, "for your sake, for I love you terribly much; and I am going to lose you."
A quiver passed through her frame, and her arms gripped him tight. In the self-absorption in his grief and pain he had not thought of hers, nor considered how with his going her whole life would be changed.
"I have been a selfish brute," he muttered. "I have only thought of my own suffering; but, listen Moira, it is all past; thank God, it is all past. This letter from Mr. Rae holds a confession from Potts (poor Potts! I am glad that Rae let him off): it was Potts who committed the forgery. Now I feel myself clean again; you can't know what that is; to be yourself again, and to be able to look all men in the face without fear or shame. Come, we must go; I must see them all again. Let us to the burn first, and put my face right."
A moment he stood looking down upon his mother's grave. The hideous thing that had put her far from him, and that had blurred the clear vision of her face, was gone. A smile soft and tender as a child's stole over his face, and with that smile he turned away. As they were coming back from the burn, Martin and the schoolmaster saw them in the distance.
"Bless me, man, will you look at him?" said the master in an awestruck tone, clutching Martin's arm. "What ever is come to him?"
"What's up," cried Martin. "By Jove! you're right! the Roderick Dhu and Black Douglas business is gone, sure!"
"God bless my soul!" said Maclise in an undertone. "He is himself once more."
He might well exclaim, for it was a new Allan that came striding up the high road, with head lifted, and with the proud swing of a Highland chieftain.
"Hello, old man!" he shouted, catching sight of Martin and running towards him with hands outstretched, "You are welcome"--he grasped his hands and held them fast--"you are welcome to this Glen, and to me welcome as Heaven to a Hell-bound soul."
"Maclise," he cried, turning to the master, "this letter," waving it in his hand, "is like a reprieve to a man on the scaffold." Maclise stood gazing in amazement at him.
"They accused me of crime!"
"Of crime, Mr. Allan?" Maclise stiffened in haughty surprise.
"Yes, of base crime!"
"But this letter completely clears him," cried Martin eagerly.
Maclise turned upon him with swift scorn, "There was no need, for anyone in this Glen whatever." The Highlander's face was pale, and in his light blue eyes gleamed a fierce light.
Martin flashed a look upon the girl standing so proudly erect beside her brother, and reflecting in her face and eyes the sentiments of the schoolmaster.
"By Jove! I believe you," cried Martin with conviction, "it is not needed here, but--but there are others, you know."
"Others?" said the Highlander with fine scorn, "and what difference?"
The Glen folk needed no clearing of their chief, and the rest of the world mattered not.
"But there was myself," said Allan. "Now it is gone, Maclise, and I can give my hand once more without fear or shame."
Maclise took the offered hand almost with reverence, and, removing his bonnet from his head, said in a voice, deep and vibrating with emotion,
"Neffer will a man of the Glen count it anything but honour to take thiss hand."
"Thank you, Maclise," cried Allan, keeping his grip of the master's hand. "Now you can tell the Glen."
"You will not be going to leave us now?" said Maclise eagerly.
"Yes, I shall go, Maclise, but," with a proud lift of his head, "tell them I am coming back again."
And with that message Maclise went to the Glen. From cot to cot and from lip to lip the message sped, that Mr. Allan was himself again, and that, though on the morrow's morn he was leaving the Glen, he himself had promised that he would return.
That evening, as the gloaming deepened, the people of the Glen gathered, as was their wont, at their cottage doors to listen to old piper Macpherson as he marched up and down the highroad. This night, it was observed, he no longer played that most heart- breaking of all Scottish laments, "Lochaber No More." He had passed up to the no less heart-thrilling, but less heartbreaking, "Macrimmon's Lament." In a pause in Macpherson's wailing notes there floated down over the Glen the sound of the pipes up at the big House.
"Bless my soul! whisht, man!" cried Betsy Macpherson to her spouse. "Listen yonder!" For the first time in months they heard the sound of Allan's pipes.
"It is himself," whispered the women to each other, and waited. Down the long avenue of ragged firs, and down the highroad, came young Mr. Allan, in all the gallant splendour of his piper's garb, and the tune he played was no lament, but the blood-stirring "Gathering of the Gordons." As he came opposite to Macpherson's cottage he gave the signal for the old piper, and down the highroad stepped the two of them together, till they passed beyond the farthest cottage. Then back again they swung, and this time it was to the "Cock of the North," that their tartans swayed and their bonnets nodded. Thus, not with woe and lamentation, but with good hope and gallant cheer, young Mr. Allan took his leave of the Glen Cuagh Oir.
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