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A Double Exposure
Whether the Kelpie had recognized us I could not tell, but not much of the next morning passed before my doubt was over. When she had set our porridge on the table, she stood up, and, with her fists in her sides, addressed my father:
"I'm very sorry, sir, to have to make complaints. It's a thing I don't like, and I'm not given to. I'm sure I try to do my duty by Master Ranald as well as everyone else in this house."
I felt a little confused, for I now saw clearly enough that my father could not approve of our proceedings. I whispered to Allister--
"Run and fetch Turkey. Tell him to come directly."
Allister always did whatever I asked him. He set off at once. The Kelpie looked suspicious as he left the room, but she had no pretext for interference. I allowed her to tell her tale without interruption. After relating exactly how we had served her the night before, when she had gone on a visit of mercy, as she represented it, she accused me of all my former tricks--that of the cat having, I presume, enlightened her as to the others; and ended by saying that if she were not protected against me and Turkey, she must leave the place.
"Let her go, father," I said. "None of us like her."
"I like her," whimpered little Davie.
"Silence, sir!" said my father, very sternly. "Are these things true?"
"Yes, father," I answered. "But please hear what I've got to say. She's only told you her side of it."
"You have confessed to the truth of what she alleges," said my father. "I did think," he went on, more in sorrow than in anger, though a good deal in both, "that you had turned from your bad ways. To think of my taking you with me to the death-bed of a holy man, and then finding you so soon after playing such tricks!--more like the mischievousness of a monkey than of a human being!"
"I don't say it was right, father; and I'm very sorry if I have offended you."
"You have offended me, and very deeply. You have been unkind and indeed cruel to a good woman who has done her best for you for many years!"
I was not too much abashed to take notice that the Kelpie bridled at this.
"I can't say I'm sorry for what I've done to her," I said.
"Really, Ranald, you are impertinent. I would send you out of the room at once, but you must beg Mrs. Mitchell's pardon first, and after that there will be something more to say, I fear."
"But, father, you have not heard my story yet."
"Well--go on. It is fair, I suppose, to hear both sides. But nothing can justify such conduct."
I began with trembling voice. I had gone over in my mind the night before all I would say, knowing it better to tell the tale from the beginning circumstantially. Before I had ended, Turkey made his appearance, ushered in by Allister. Both were out of breath with running.
My father stopped me, and ordered Turkey away until I should have finished. I ventured to look up at the Kelpie once or twice. She had grown white, and grew whiter. When Turkey left the room, she would have gone too. But my father told her she must stay and hear me to the end. Several times she broke out, accusing me of telling a pack of wicked lies, but my father told her she should have an opportunity of defending herself, and she must not interrupt me. When I had done, he called Turkey, and made him tell the story. I need hardly say that, although he questioned us closely, he found no discrepancy between our accounts. He turned at last to Mrs. Mitchell, who, but for her rage, would have been in an abject condition.
"Now, Mrs. Mitchell!" he said.
She had nothing to reply beyond asserting that Turkey and I had always hated and persecuted her, and had now told a pack of lies which we had agreed upon, to ruin her, a poor lone woman, with no friends to take her part.
"I do not think it likely they could be so wicked," said my father.
"So I'm to be the only wicked person in the world! Very well, sir! I will leave the house this very day."
"No, no, Mrs. Mitchell; that won't do. One party or the other is very wicked--that is clear; and it is of the greatest consequence to me to find out which. If you go, I shall know it is you, and have you taken up and tried for stealing. Meantime I shall go the round of the parish. I do not think all the poor people will have combined to lie against you."
"They all hate me," said the Kelpie.
"And why?" asked my father.
She made no answer.
"I must get at the truth of it," said my father. "You can go now."
She left the room without another word, and my father turned to Turkey.
"I am surprised at you, Turkey, lending yourself to such silly pranks. Why did you not come and tell me."
"I am very sorry, sir. I was afraid you would be troubled at finding how wicked she was, and I thought we might frighten her away somehow. But Ranald began his tricks without letting me know, and then I saw that mine could be of no use, for she would suspect them after his. Mine would have been better, sir."
"I have no doubt of it, but equally unjustifiable. And you as well as he acted the part of a four-footed animal last night."
"I confess I yielded to temptation then, for I knew it could do no good. It was all for the pleasure of frightening her. It was very foolish of me, and I beg your pardon, sir."
"Well, Turkey, I confess you have vexed me, not by trying to find out the wrong she was doing me and the whole parish, but by taking the whole thing into your own hands. It is worse of you, inasmuch as you are older and far wiser than Ranald. It is worse of Ranald because I was his father. I will try to show you the wrong you have done.--Had you told me without doing anything yourselves, then I might have succeeded in bringing Mrs. Mitchell to repentance. I could have reasoned with her on the matter, and shown her that she was not merely a thief, but a thief of the worst kind, a Judas who robbed the poor, and so robbed God. I could have shown her how cruel she was--"
"Please, sir," interrupted Turkey, "I don't think after all she did it for herself. I do believe," he went on, and my father listened, "that Wandering Willie is some relation of hers. He is the only poor person, almost the only person except Davie, I ever saw her behave kindly to. He was there last night, and also, I fancy, that other time, when Ranald got such a fright. She has poor relations somewhere, and sends the meal to them by Willie. You remember, sir, there were no old clothes of Allister's to be found when you wanted them for Jamie Duff."
"You may be right, Turkey--I dare say you are right. I hope you are, for though bad enough, that would not be quite so bad as doing it for herself."
"I am very sorry, father," I said; "I beg your pardon."
"I hope it will be a lesson to you, my boy. After what you have done, rousing every bad and angry passion in her, I fear it will be of no use to try to make her be sorry and repent. It is to her, not to me, you have done the wrong. I have nothing to complain of for myself--quite the contrary. But it is a very dreadful thing to throw difficulties in the way of repentance and turning from evil works."
"What can I do to make up for it?" I sobbed.
"I don't see at this moment what you can do. I will turn it over in my mind. You may go now."
Thereupon Turkey and I walked away, I to school, he to his cattle. The lecture my father had given us was not to be forgotten. Turkey looked sad, and I felt subdued and concerned.
Everything my father heard confirmed the tale we had told him. But the Kelpie frustrated whatever he may have resolved upon with regard to her: before he returned she had disappeared. How she managed to get her chest away, I cannot tell. I think she must have hid it in some outhouse, and fetched it the next night. Many little things were missed from the house afterwards, but nothing of great value, and neither she nor Wandering Willie ever appeared again. We were all satisfied that poor old Betty knew nothing of her conduct. It was easy enough to deceive her, for she was alone in her cottage, only waited upon by a neighbour who visited her at certain times of the day.
My father, I heard afterwards, gave five shillings out of his own pocket to every one of the poor people whom the Kelpie had defrauded. Her place in the house was, to our endless happiness, taken by Kirsty, and faithfully she carried out my father's instructions that, along with the sacred handful of meal, a penny should be given to every one of the parish poor from that time forward, so long as he lived at the manse.
Not even little Davie cried when he found that Mrs. Mitchell was really gone. It was more his own affection than her kindness that had attached him to her.
Thus were we at last delivered from our Kelpie.
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