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THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW.
I woke with a heavy heart the next morning, for I knew that Jim would be home before long, and that it would be a day of trouble. But how much trouble that day was to bring, or how far it would alter the lives of us, was more than I had ever thought in my darkest moments. But let me tell you it all, just in the order that it happened.
I had to get up early that morning; for it was just the first flush of the lambing, and my father and I were out on the moors as soon as it was fairly light. As I came out into the passage a wind struck upon my face, and there was the house door wide open, and the grey light drawing another door upon the inner wall. And when I looked again there was Edie's room open also, and de Lapp's too; and I saw in a flash what that giving of presents meant upon the evening before. It was a leave-taking, and they were gone.
My heart was bitter against Cousin Edie as I stood looking into her room. To think that for the sake of a newcomer she could leave us all without one kindly word, or as much as a hand-shake. And he, too! I had been afraid of what would happen when Jim met him; but now there seemed to be something cowardly in this avoidance of him. I was angry and hurt and sore, and I went out into the open without a word to my father, and climbed up on to the moors to cool my flushed face.
When I got up to Corriemuir I caught my last glimpse of Cousin Edie. The little cutter still lay where she had anchored, but a rowboat was pulling out to her from the shore. In the stern I saw a flutter of red, and I knew that it came from her shawl. I watched the boat reach the yacht and the folk climb on to her deck. Then the anchor came up, the white wings spread once more, and away she dipped right out to sea. I still saw that little red spot on the deck, and de Lapp standing beside her. They could see me also, for I was outlined against the sky, and they both waved their hands for a long time, but gave it up at last when they found that I would give them no answer.
I stood with my arms folded, feeling as glum as ever I did in my life, until their cutter was only a square hickering patch of white among the mists of the morning. It was breakfast time and the porridge upon the table before I got back, but I had no heart for the food. The old folk had taken the matter coolly enough, though my mother had no word too hard for Edie; for the two had never had much love for each other, and less of late than ever.
"There's a letter here from him," said my father, pointing to a note folded up on the table; "it was in his room. Maybe you would read it to us."
They had not even opened it; for, truth to tell, neither of the good folk were very clever at reading ink, though they could do well with a fine large print.
It was addressed in big letters to "The good people of West Inch;" and this was the note, which lies before me all stained and faded as I write:
"My friends,-- I didn't thought to have left you so suddenly, but the matter was in other hands than mine. Duty and honour have called me back to my old comrades. This you will doubtless understand before many days are past. I take your Edie with me as my wife; and it may be that in some more peaceful time you will see us again at West Inch. Meanwhile, accept the assurance of my affection, and believe me that I shall never forget the quiet months which I spent with you, at the time when my life would have been worth a week at the utmost had I been taken by the Allies. But the reason of this you may also learn some day."
"Yours," "BONAVENTURE DE LISSAC" "(Colonel des Voltigeurs de la Garde, et aide-de-camp de S.M.I. L'Empereur Napoleon.")
I whistled when I came to those words written under his name; for though I had long made up my mind that our lodger could be none other than one of those wonderful soldiers of whom we had heard so much, who had forced their way into every capital of Europe, save only our own, still I had little thought that our roof covered Napoleon's own aide-de-camp and a colonel of his Guard.
"So," said I, "de Lissac is his name, and not de Lapp. Well, colonel or no, it is as well for him that he got away from here before Jim laid hands upon him. And time enough, too," I added, peeping out at the kitchen window, "for here is the man himself coming through the garden."
I ran to the door to meet him, feeling that I would have given a deal to have him back in Edinburgh again. He came running, waving a paper over his head; and I thought that maybe he had a note from Edie, and that it was all known to him. But as he came up I saw that it was a big, stiff, yellow paper which crackled as he waved it, and that his eyes were dancing with happiness.
"Hurrah, Jock!" he shouted. "Where is Edie? Where is Edie?"
"What is it, man?" I asked.
"Where is Edie?"
"What have you there?"
"It's my diploma, Jock. I can practise when I like. It's all right. I want to show it to Edie."
"The best you can do is to forget all about Edie," said I.
Never have I seen a man's face change as his did when I said those words.
"What! What d'ye mean, Jock Calder?" he stammered.
He let go his hold of the precious diploma as he spoke, and away it went over the hedge and across the moor, where it stuck flapping on a whin-bush; but he never so much as glanced at it. His eyes were bent upon me, and I saw the devil's spark glimmer up in the depths of them.
"She is not worthy of you," said I.
He gripped me by the shoulder.
"What have you done?" he whispered. "This is some of your hanky-panky! Where is she?"
"She's off with that Frenchman who lodged here."
I had been casting about in my mind how I could break it gently to him; but I was always backward in speech, and I could think of nothing better than this.
"Oh!" said he, and stood nodding his head and looking at me, though I knew very well that he could neither see me, nor the steading, nor anything else. So he stood for a minute or more, with his hands clenched and his head still nodding. Then he gave a gulp in his throat, and spoke in a queer dry, rasping voice.
"When was this?" said he.
"Were they married?"
He put his hand against the door-post to steady himself.
"Any message for me?"
"She said that you would forgive her."
"May God blast my soul on the day I do! Where have they gone to?"
"To France, I should judge."
"His name was de Lapp, I think?"
"His real name is de Lissac; and he is no less than a colonel in Boney's Guards."
"Ah! he would be in Paris, likely. That is well! That is well!"
"Hold up!" I shouted. "Father! Father! Bring the brandy!"
His knees had given way for an instant, but he was himself again before the old man came running with the bottle.
"Take it away!" said he.
"Have a soop, Mister Horscroft," cried my father, pressing it upon him. "It will give you fresh heart!"
He caught hold of the bottle and sent it flying over the garden hedge.
"It's very good for those who wish to forget," said he; "I am going to remember!"
"May God forgive you for sinfu' waste!" cried my father aloud.
"And for well-nigh braining an officer of his Majesty's infantry!" said old Major Elliott, putting his head over the hedge. "I could have done with a nip after a morning's walk, but it is something new to have a whole bottle whizz past my ear. But what is amiss, that you all stand round like mutes at a burying?"
In a few words I told him our trouble, while Jim, with a grey face and his brows drawn down, stood leaning against the door-post. The Major was as glum as we by the time I had finished, for he was fond both of Jim and of Edie.
"Tut, tut!" said he. "I feared something of the kind ever since that business of the peel tower. It's the way with the French. They can't leave the women alone. But, at least, de Lissac has married her, and that's a comfort. But it's no time now to think of our own little troubles, with all Europe in a roar again, and another twenty years' war before us, as like as not."
"What d'ye mean?" I asked.
"Why, man, Napoleon's back from Elba, his troops have flocked to him, and Louis has run for his life. The news was in Berwick this morning."
"Great Lord!" cried my father. "Then the weary business is all to do over again!"
"Aye, we thought we were out from the shadow, but it's still there. Wellington is ordered from Vienna to the Low Countries, and it is thought that the Emperor will break out first on that side. Well, it's a bad wind that blows nobody any good. I've just had news that I am to join the 71st as senior major."
I shook hands with our good neighbour on this, for I knew how it had lain upon his mind that he should be a cripple, with no part to play in the world.
"I am to join my regiment as soon as I can; and we shall be over yonder in a month, and in Paris, maybe, before another one is over."
"By the Lord, then, I'm with you, Major!" cried Jim Horscroft. "I'm not too proud to carry a musket, if you will put me in front of this Frenchman."
"My lad, I'd be proud to have you serve under me," said the Major. "And as to de Lissac, where the Emperor is he will be."
"You know the man," said I. "What can you tell us of him?"
"There is no better officer in the French army, and that is a big word to say. They say that he would have been a marshal, but he preferred to stay at the Emperor's elbow. I met him two days before Corunna, when I was sent with a flag to speak about our wounded. He was with Soult then. I knew him again when I saw him."
"And I will know him again when I see him!" said Horscroft, with the old dour look on his face.
And then at that instant, as I stood there, it was suddenly driven home to me how poor and purposeless a life I should lead while this crippled friend of ours and the companion of my boyhood were away in the forefront of the storm. Quick as a flash my resolution was taken.
"I'll come with you too, Major," I cried.
"Jock! Jock!" said my father, wringing his hands.
Jim said nothing, but put his arm half round me and hugged me. The Major's eyes shone and he flourished his cane in the air.
"My word, but I shall have two good recruits at my heels," said he. "Well, there's no time to be lost, so you must both be ready for the evening coach."
And this was what a single day brought about; and yet years pass away so often without a change. Just think of the alteration in that four-and-twenty hours. De Lissac was gone. Edie was gone. Napoleon had escaped. War had broken out. Jim Horscroft had lost everything, and he and I were setting out to fight against the French. It was all like a dream, until I tramped off to the coach that evening, and looked back at the grey farm steading and at the two little dark figures: my mother with her face sunk in her Shetland shawl, and my father waving his drover's stick to hearten me upon my way.
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